Understanding hakarat hatov starts with the name itself. Hakarat comes from hakir, which means to recognize. So, what does hakarat hatov, aka gratitude, really entail? It starts with recognition – noticing the good, the tov, we have around us, and within us.
While recognizing the good seems like an easy task (And there are no thank-you notes involved!) recognition is actually more complicated than it seems. It’s human nature to become accustomed to what we have and take it for granted. Stop and think about the last time you had a terrible cold, when breathing easily seemed impossible. For the first day or two after the cold passed, you might have noticed the ease with which the air was entering and leaving your lungs. But soon, you’re focused on other things, the miracle of breath completely unnoticed, let alone celebrated.
Judaism creates a structure that encourages us to notice the good even in the most mundane aspects of life. Through blessings over our food, the Asher Yatzar prayer after using the restroom, and the Modeh Ani when we rise, we are reminded that none of these things are a given. When we pay attention to the good, we can live lives of authentic gratitude.