The Transformative Power of Gratitude

How much gratitude do you show?

Many studies have shown a clear correlation between gratitude and increased well-being. This is not only for the individual but for all people involved. The positive psychology movement has embraced these studies. To increase well-being they have begun to incorporate exercises to increase gratitude into the movement. Although in the past psychology neglected gratitude, in recent years a lot of progress has been made in studying this and its positive effects.

But for me this is a rediscovery of what Stoics already knew.

The Power of Stoic Gratitude

For example according to Cicero:

Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.


Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence, to a humble and grateful mind. Not to instance great things, the mere possibility of producing milk from grass, cheese from milk, and wool from skins–who formed and planned this? No one, say you. O surprising irreverence and dullness!

-Epictetus, AD c. 55–135, Discourses, Bk 1, ch 16

Moreover, Seneca himself wrote about the giving and receiving of benefits, and the gratitude exhibited by recipients:

He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first instalment on his debt.

I would argue that Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is an expressive and appreciative account of how grateful he is. He expresses this for his friends, teachers, family members and other people around him. He was grateful for the help he received from others. This went towards shaping his character, offering opportunities for his education, and fostering his spiritual development. His Meditations were not intended for publication. Rather they were a spiritual exercise which helped with his self-improvement.

The Effects of Fostering a Sense of Gratitude

So what are the effects of fostering a sense of gratitude? Well, this may sound corny, but it's amazing how one simple, easy, positive action can change so much in a person’s life. One of the things that has had the biggest effect on my life is the realisation of the power of gratitude. Simply giving thanks during my daily reflection. Taking a moment to consider those who have helped me and thinking about those things in my life which I take for granted. If you try this then you’ll get an instant lift which helps to set you up for the rest of the day. What else can you do in a minute or two which has such a positive impact?

A regular commitment to being grateful, can turn into a habit. Once this happens then day to day difficulties can be put into their proper context. Your outlook on life slowly starts to transform. Its a small habit that sometimes you can forget to do it. But its worth the effort. Take a moment now to think about some of the things you’re grateful for. They may include:

  • Being alive
  • Being married
  • Having children
  • Your job
  • Your capacity for doing good
  • Your home
  • Your health
  • Your friends
  • The pleasant memory of loved ones who are no longer alive
  • … and so on.

Time is Fleeting

Seneca stressed that time is a fleeting and slippery possession. Every moment of every day we die. This is completely outside of our control. It makes sense to value our time and use it well. One wise use of your time could be to realise that gratitude can be about specific moments too. Those small parts of your day where you had a pleasant experience as you move through the day. A compliment you received, a commute to work where you heard a forgotten, favourite song on the radio, a helpful employee in a shop, or a person who was courteous.

At a macro level, the fact that you’re alive is a miracle. Do something to show your gratitude for this, anything. Be nice to someone, make something, spend time with the people you love, whatever. As we get stuck in our daily routines we often taken life for granted. We find things which don’t match our expectations, and complain about them. But life isn’t perfect all the time. Appreciate this and move on. Look around you, and see what you’ve generously been given. Appreciate it

If you make an effort the list of things to be grateful about can be pages and pages long. I’m sure that you get the principle behind what is being suggested here. Of course, you can still feel worried or upset about a situation you don’t like, but at least it will be put into context and perspective. And you have choices:

  • When you feel anger, instead take a moment to reflect on what aspects of that person or relationship you’re thankful for
  • When you don’t meet a goal, think about the progress you’ve made and the fact you’ve tried your best
  • When you feel ill or unwell, consider that this is only temporary
  • When someone you love dies, reflect on the times you’ve had together and why the enjoyment you both felt from the time that you had with them
  • When you are criticized be thankful that they have paid enough attention to you to even say something

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them ~ John F. Kennedy

Practising Gratitude

Practising gratitude in your life will need a conscious effort. But if you practice Stoic contemplation already it simply requires that you add a couple of minutes to what you already do. If you keep a journal, you can keep a written account of your reflections. Recognise those people, material and non-material possessions that you enjoy. The hardest part of this is actually getting started. But once you do then you’ll realise that its not all that tough. Once you’re established a gratitude habit, the number of agreeable things happening in your life will rise. Things that you’ve not noticed before will reveal themselves. Your patience will improve, you’ll appreciate life’s smaller pleasures, and your resilience to challenges will increase.

So being grateful affects you as a person. For a start it makes you more positive. And happier. I’ve noticed that it also has a beneficial effect ton my productivity and relationships too. Or course, I’m not without my flaws but being grateful has made me feel better.

I think that its worth a try to see if it can help you too. It may affect you in different ways to me. But adding gratitude into your daily Stoic routines will, over time, affect your life and those around you in a positive way. And there aren’t many activities which are so simple, so easy, which have such a profound impact.

How do you practice gratitude?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash



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Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson


Big ideas and important articles. Writing to help you make sense of the world. And cope with being human.