Children's Tales About Gratitude

More Than Just the Absence of Greed

Stories about gratitude abound across cultures and time periods. Though many of them share similar themes, not all of them approach gratitude in quite the same way. Some focus on the benefits of receiving gratitude from other people, while others focus more on the importance of experiencing gratitude ourselves.   

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One Good Turn Deserves Another

Lion.
Image courtesy of Diana Robinson.

Many folktales about gratitude send a message that if you treat others well, your kindness will be returned to you. Interestingly, these stories tend to focus on the recipient of the gratitude rather than on the person who is grateful. And they're usually as balanced as a mathematical equation -- every good deed is perfectly reciprocated.

One of the most famous examples of this type of tale is Aesop's "Androcles and the Lion." In this story, an escaped slave named Androcles stumbles upon a lion in the forest. The lion has a vicious thorn stuck in his paw, and Androcles removes it for him. Later, both are captured, and Androcles is sentenced to be "thrown to the Lion." But though the lion is ravenous, he merely licks his friend's hand in greeting. The Emperor, astonished, sets both of them free.

Another famous example is a Hungarian folktale called "The Grateful Beasts." In it, a young man comes to the aid of an injured bee, an injured mouse, and an injured wolf. Eventually, these same animals use their special talents to save the young man's life and secure his fortune and happiness.

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Gratitude Is Not an Entitlement

Crane.
Image courtesy of Larry Lamsa.

Though good deeds are rewarded in folktales, gratitude is not a permanent entitlement. Recipients sometimes have to follow certain rules and not take the gratitude for granted.

For example, a folktale from Japan called "The Grateful Crane" starts out following a similar pattern to that of "The Grateful Beasts." In it, a poor farmer comes across a crane that has been shot by an arrow. The farmer gently removes the arrow, and the crane flies away.

Later, a beautiful woman becomes the farmer's wife. When the rice harvest fails and they face starvation, she secretly weaves a magnificent fabric that they can sell, but she forbids him ever to watch her weave. Curiosity gets the better of him, though, and he peeks at her while she works and discovers that she is the crane he saved. She leaves, and he returns to penury. (In some versions, he is punished not with poverty but with loneliness.)

You can find an illustrated, silent video of the story on YouTube, and a free audio version of the story at Storynory.com.

And in some versions, like this lovely translation, it is a childless couple who save the crane. 

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Appreciate What You Have

Golden statue of girl.
Image courtesy of Shiv.

Most of us probably think of "King Midas and the Golden Touch" as a cautionary tale about greed -- which it is, of course. After all, King Midas believes he can never have too much gold, but once his food and even his daughter have suffered from his alchemy, he realizes he was wrong.

But "King Midas and the Golden Touch" is also a story about gratitude and appreciation. Midas doesn't realize what's truly important to him until he's lost it (just like Joni Mitchell's famous line in "Big Yellow Taxi," "You don't know what you've got till it's gone").

Once he's rid himself of the golden touch, he appreciates not just his wonderful daughter, but also the simple treasures of life, like cold water and bread and butter.

Can't Go Wrong with Gratitude

It's true that gratitude -- whether we experience it ourselves or receive it from other people -- can be of great benefit to us. We're all better off if we're kind to each other and appreciative of what we have.