3 Children's Tales About Gratitude

Girl smiling with arms stretched toward the sky

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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

Painting of Androcles removing a thorn from the ailing lion's paw
Androcles and the Lion.

Jean-Léon Gérôme / Wikimedia Commons / public domain

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, Androcles, a man who has escaped enslavement, stumbles upon a lion in the forest. The lion is in great pain, and Androcles discovers that he has a large thorn stuck in his paw. Androcles removes it for him. Later, both are captured, and Androcles is sentenced to be "thrown to the lion." Even though the lion is ravenous, he merely licks his friend's hand in greeting. The Emperor, astonished, sets both of them free.

Another example of reciprocal gratitude occurs in 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

Girl's hands holding an origami crane
Crane origami (the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures).

GA161076 / Getty Images

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.

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Appreciate What You Have

Painting of King Midas on a white horse surrounded by people
King Midas.

Michelangelo Cerquozzi / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain 

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.

"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 the wise lyric in Joni Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi": "You don't know what you've got till it's gone").

Once he has rid himself of the golden touch, he appreciates not only his beloved daughter but also the simple treasures of life, like cold water and bread and butter.

You 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. This is a good message for adults and children alike.

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Sustana, Catherine. "3 Children's Tales About Gratitude." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2021, thoughtco.com/childrens-tales-about-gratitude-2990544. Sustana, Catherine. (2021, September 1). 3 Children's Tales About Gratitude. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/childrens-tales-about-gratitude-2990544 Sustana, Catherine. "3 Children's Tales About Gratitude." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/childrens-tales-about-gratitude-2990544 (accessed June 2, 2023).