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Gratitude – The Parent of All Virtues


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We are finishing off Thanksgiving weekend, so I want to look at the virtue of gratitude today. Next week begins the Advent season, where we will look at hope, peace, joy, and love. For me gratitude is the harbinger of those powerful virtues.

The Roman philosopher Cicero is sourced with saying, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” What he meant by that is not quite clear, but for me he is emphasizing the significance of the virtue. Gratitude is the affirmation of goodness. It is derived from the Latin word ‘gratia’, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we receive, whether tangible or intangible. In the process of acknowledging goodness in our lives, we usually recognize that the source of much of that goodness lies outside ourselves. As a result, being grateful helps us connect to something larger than ourselves — whether to other people, nature, or God.

When Cicero claims that gratitude is the parent of all other virtues, I think he is saying that from a grateful heart, from the perspective of seeing the goodness of God in all things, the other virtues are born. They are innate results of God’s goodness and love. To fully express courage or joy, for instance, we must know that God’s goodness is ever present, surrounding us and the situations and people we are engaging. If we do not act from a perspective of gratitude, our efforts are weakened. This is why Christ always performed miracles after giving thanks. Gratitude precedes results; it is the forerunner of hope, peace, joy, love, and all other virtues.

So much has been written on the benefits of gratitude that it cannot be confined to a talk like this. But they include improved mental health. Gratitude is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. It can also help improve self-esteem and increase feelings of happiness and life satisfaction.

Gratitude leads to better physical health, such as better sleep quality, lower blood pressure, and reduced inflammation. Gratitude can help us feel more connected to others by increasing our feelings of kindness and warmth. It can enhance our willingness to help others and aid us in developing a more positive outlook on life. It can strengthen our personal relationships by increasing feelings of social support and connection. Developing gratitude can increase our ability to find positive meaning in challenging experiences so that we can cope more easily with difficulties.

Is gratitude a gift from God? The Bible does not state that directly. It is a virtue that flows from our open heart; it is a natural spiritual echo reverberating God’s loving presence. Christian philosopher and author Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” But whether gift or fruit, it is a virtue worthy of our development.

There are inconsequential differences between the words ‘gratitude’ and ‘thankfulness.’ In the Bible they are basically synonymous. Today, some people describe gratitude as a general state of appreciation for life, whereas thankfulness is a response to a particular event or experience. Gratitude is the inner feeling and thanks is the way we express it. For me, they are the same.

The holiday of Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to focus on gratitude and giving thanks. But it should act as a springboard for continuing our feelings, and not end after the food and family are gone. It takes effort, but we can sustain our gratitude by doing a few things. Many of you are already engaged in these activities.

First, we can write about our gratefulness. The physical act of writing slows us down and we are more focused and intentional about our gratitude. For instance, I’ve read that to memorialize our gratitude, ingrain it into our hearts, we can write a short memo describing our thankfulness toward a person or event. For example, “Turkey, family, hugs, time together.”

We can also write a bit longer thank-you note to an individual for their kindness. Again, putting pen to paper connects us more personally to our feelings. “I’m so happy that you…” and tell them their specific action or words that made us feel gratitude. I appreciate that you ….” Thank you for ….” “You helped me ….” and indicate their supportive action.

Research has shown that the benefit of writing your thanks, more peace, lower blood pressure, etc., is gained whether you mail the thank-you note or not. Of course, if you mail the note, now they get the benefit of your appreciation, and doesn’t it feel good to be appreciated? There are also downloadable apps that can help us make writing our thoughts a habit.

If we have no time to write a note, we can send them thoughts of thanks. We mentally see what they have done for us and envision them surrounded by our gratitude.

A third activity to develop gratitude is to notice the natural world. In this community it is easy to do if we are mindful. We can go to our favorite spot and use our senses to take in the wonders around us. Does the air feel crisp or cool or moist? What fragrances are there in the air? What is marvelous about the sunset or sunrise? We can try to focus on what we appreciate about our natural surroundings. This focus on appreciation helps us be grateful for the good in our lives.

This is what counting our blessings is all about. Pick a time once a week to go over all the good that has happened and what we are grateful for. Pick four or five things and focus on them and how they made us feel.

Helping and serving others is an excellent way of developing gratitude. Finding a cause and volunteering our time or resources to change someone’s life can make us more thankful for what we have. Self-care is also important to our gratitude status. Activities that bring us joy and help us relax, such as reading a book, fixing something, taking a bath, or going for a walk can open our hearts to gratitude. Remember, gratitude is all about changing our focus from what is wrong to what is good in our lives.

To really capture our gratitude, we can create a gratitude jar. We can use a shoe box or mason jar, anything where we can slip post-it notes or scraps of paper. We write down anything that captures the attention of our gratitude. For instance: “Unexpected call from family.” “Helpful neighbor.” “Great dinner.” We write down anything that makes us happy or appreciative.

This focus on goodness is why gratitude is so powerful. We think about positive things instead of toxic emotions. We ponder what we have instead of what we lack. When we express our gratitude to others, we must focus on them, their needs, who they are, and in return they feel more comfortable giving back to us. Gratitude creates the divine connection: we get what we give.

In our prayer time we can thank God for all the good we have received. Always have a “Thank you God,” ready on our lips and in our hearts. Throughout the day we can say, “Thank you God” every time something good happens, no matter how small or incidental. We make it through a yellow light, “Thank you God.” We found our keys. “Thank you God.”

Gratitude has been shown to have a lasting effect on our brains. The gratitude we shared yesterday, last week, even last month, has a positive effect on our current mental state. Like all virtues, gratitude takes time and effort to develop. We can’t expect a lasting change in our attitude after writing a single note of thanks to someone. But we can expect to feel better temporarily after sending the note, and that person will feel better, too.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion and virtue that affects us mentally, physically, and spiritually. Expressing our thanks in word or deed and acknowledging all the good in our lives is an avenue for opening our hearts to all other virtues. Gratitude is not complex. The Vietnamese have a proverb: “When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.” That is gratitude.

In several of the Psalms we read, “…give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His steadfast love endures forever!” It is my prayer that we open our hearts to the gratitude that flows within the channels of God’s constant unwavering love and presence. James 1:17 tells us, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above, from the Father who made the sun, moon, and stars.” I pray that we accept the way of Christ, the path of love and gratitude, and that we accept and show our thanks for all of God’s good in our lives.


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