Freedom of Gratitude Act

Freedom of Gratitude Act

Where does gratitude fall in the nature-nurture spectrum?


You’ve heard the argument about nature versus nurture, right? Nature pointing to those traits pre-wired in us, influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors. Nurture being products of our exposure to external factors, experience and learning.

One thing I always figured was in the nurture category was gratitude. Unless scientists have mapped the human genome to include gratefulness in the genetic blueprint of a human being. 

I do know that the blueprint for happiness includes gratitude. Multitudes of studies have researched and proven that gratitude has emotional, personal, health, career and social advantages; all of which lead to increased happiness.

And we can learn to be grateful from being around people who are thankful. In other words, we can be nurtured by other people who model gratitude.

Recently, I came across a familial artifact that might reveal a little more nature than nurture when it comes to gratitude.

Filed under M (for miscellaneous), I found a letter where my mom had FOIA’d the DMV. I know that’s a lot of letters, but my predilection for acronyms is equal parts nature and nurture.

My mom had sent a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles, invoking the Freedom of Information Act, which requires disclosure of unreleased information controlled by the U.S. government upon request. 

Quick background in American law: FOIA is rooted in a desire for accountability through transparency “to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.” So sayeth the Department of Justice.

However, corruption and accountability were not at the root of my mom’s request.

My mom FOIAd the DMV in order to identify the “tall, young white male driver of a white, 4-door sedan with Virginia license plate number XXXX-XXX” (you can FOIA me if you’re interested in the actual license plate number). 

Mom’s letter goes into exhaustive detail about an interaction a few days earlier at a grocery store. The yet-to-be-identified tall young man bought my Dad a magazine about World War II after their conversation about the war while waiting for a price check (or someone paying by check). 

This letter was written after my Mom had already gone back to the grocery store and tracked down the cashier to see if she knew the shopper. And I wouldn’t put it past my Mom to have surveilled the store to wait for the tall young man to return to the scene of the gift. Some call it casing the joint or stalking, Mom calls it gratitude.

And somewhere out there is a tall young man, hopefully no longer driving the same white 4-door sedan, who probably has no idea the impact his gift made on my Mom, my Dad and me.

I may have some gratitude DNA coursing through my genes, but we can all nurture each other to notice the good deeds around us. 

Also coursing through my jeans are index cards (I have a genetic predisposition to office supplies) so when I don’t have time to FOIA state agencies, I can at least jot a personalized note of thanks for an act that made an impact on me.

Frugality is also a biological inheritance so naturally, I love that gratitude is free. It costs us only the time to notice and acknowledge. That’s an investment in my overall happiness that I can get behind.