29th September 2021
HOM: Responding with wonderment and awe
‘A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.’ (Cicero)
For those brought up within a religious tradition, thanksgiving is a regular feature of prayer and worship. Early on in our lives we may have been encouraged to ‘count our blessings’ and even sing about them. And at this time of year many people will participate in harvest festivals remembering with thanks, the food they have in abundance and seek to give to those for whom abundance cannot be taken for granted. In fact an attitude of thankfulness is closely associated with giving, which may be why Cicero, the Roman orator, once said, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.”
Secular thinkers have also latched on to the benefits of gratitude as an attitude to cultivate. Last week was World Gratitude Day and according to the Mayo Clinic, a daily gratitude practice has been shown to significantly increase happiness and also physical health. Practicing gratitude improves sleep, boosts immunity and decreases the risk of disease. So it can certainly improve individual wellbeing, but it would seem that for it to be a virtue gratitude should be less about personal gain and more outwardly directed towards those on whom we depend, and for all those things we take for granted, including the natural world. Gratitude recognises that none of us are simply ‘self-made’ and that many people and fortunate circumstances contribute to the good things that come our way. It is for those we can be thankful and express gratitude.
Of course, public expressions of gratitude are quite rare, even more so if they are religious in tone. Yet as Sathnam Sanghera recently wrote in the Times (27/9/21) some of our young sports people have been doing just that. ‘Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling regularly invoke God in thanks for their success. On winning the young London player of the year award this year, Saka even tweeted “God’s Work”.’ While success has come through hard work and commitment they acknowledge that they too are not simply ‘self-made’. And their attitude of gratitude has led them also to become notable in their altruism and active concern for others. Their thankful hearts have indeed parented other virtues.