The Virtue of Gratitude

Sam Shoemaker - Gratitude

"Gratitude is called a moral virtue because it is the proper and just response to a gift freely given, what is due to the person who so favors us (hence placed under the cardinal virtue justice). We have a capacity for receiving goods from others and giving thanks is how we exercise that capacity well, expressing our gratitude through a gracious response to the grace that is shown to us. But gratitude is also an emotion, a capacity to experience a certain feeling that accompanies the receipt of the good. We not only give thanks, we feel grateful. As an emotion-virtue, gratitude disposes us morally to act right and emotionally to feel right, to do good as regards others and to do well as regards our mental condition.

Gratitude promotes feelings of well-being because it is a perception of good. It is a perception in terms of a benefit, a beneficiary, and a benefactor, what [Robert C.] Roberts calls the three interlocking B’s (bene is Latin for “good” or “well”) that make up the framework of gratitude.

Gratitude becomes spiritual, a spiritual virtue and a spiritual emotion, when we are moved in our response by a God-centered view of the three: gift, recipient, and giver. This is the view we gain in AA. The AA understanding is that we are sober by the grace of God. Our gratitude is a response to grace, freely given.

We grow in this gratitude as we come to see not only our sobriety but every proper good we have as gifts from a loving God, and ourselves as blessed. We grow still further as we come to see the blessings of our fellows and of the natural order from the same perspective. Gratitude is our just and our loving and distinctly human response to God’s providence, for we are his creatures and his children, equally made in his image and equally dependent on his grace.

We know from our experience when we drank that gratitude, even of the garden variety that leaves God out of the picture, was one emotion that seldom arose spontaneously in us. Gratitude was not in our repertoire, as some might say. More likely, we still had the capacity, but it was greatly impaired. We took whatever good we had for granted, feeling entitled to or giving ourselves credit for it. Rather than look for the good and give thanks, our tendency was to look for the bad and complain and reject. Dissatisfaction was our default mode, creating a psychological climate in us that was hostile to gratitude and fed our power-driven obsession with changing everything. This naturally made for unsettled lives and unstable emotions.

This begins to change when we come to AA . . . [as we saw with the grateful cabbie]. But if our practice is to be spiritual and if it is to result in emotional sobriety, gratitude needs to be firmly grounded in an understanding of God as ultimately the giver of all good gifts and us as his favored and blessed recipients.

If we consciously practice it as such, time and again, through such disciplines as prayer, meditation, and service and in matters big and small, gratitude will over the long term become embedded in us as a habitual, settled part of our character. We will be morally and emotionally disposed to gratitude, looking for a reason to give thanks even in the most difficult of circumstances. In Step 11 we will then come to the knowledge that giving thanks “in all things”9 is God’s will for us. Saying that “I am a grateful alcoholic” will then reflect the truth about who we have become in our person, having understood deeply and intimately that God in his grace can turn any evil, any pain we have suffered or inflicted, to good purpose."

                           – From PTP123, "Emotion-Virtues," pp. 55–57 

[Image: Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Calvary Episcopal Church pastor, who as head of NYC Oxford Group where Rowland H. and Ebby T. got sober transmitted basics of AA program to Bill W. For Bill's recognition of his contributions to AA, see Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, pp. 3840. See also "Sam Shoemaker," in The Language of the Heart, pp. 379–380.]  

Bill W."I try hard to hold fast to the truth that a full and thankful heart cannot entertain great conceits. When brimming with gratitude, one’s heartbeat must surely result in outgoing love, the finest emotion we can ever know." – Bill W., As Bill Sees It  

Big Book
"To this end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.” – Big Book

12&12"When by devoted service to family, friends, business, or community we attract widespread affection and are sometimes singled out for posts of greater responsibility and trust, we try to be humbly grateful and exert ourselves the more in a spirit of love and service." – 12&12  

Life Recovery Bible
"What do you have that you did not receive?" – 1 Corinthians 4:7

"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for." – Epicurus 

Marcus Aurelius
"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." – Marcus Aurelius

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." – Epictetus

Seneca"He that hastens to repay is animated with a sense, not of gratitude, but of indebtedness; he is an unwilling debtor, and an unwilling debtor is ungrateful."
– Seneca   

Meister Eckhart
"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice." – Meister Eckhart 

Thomas Merton"To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us . . . Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference." – Thomas Merton  

Henri Nouwen"Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don't receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself in envy." – Henri J. M. Nouwen 

Thornton Wilder
"The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude." – Thornton Wilder  

John Bradford
"There but for the grace of God go I." – John Bradford   

Neal A. Maxwell
"We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count." – Neal A. Maxwell   

Karl Barth
"Joy is the simplest form of gratitude." – Karl Barth   

Ralph Waldo Emerson"Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude." – Ralph Waldo Emerson   

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." – Dietrich Bonhoeffer   

Henry Ward Beecher
"A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves." – Henry Ward Beecher

William James
"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated." – William James  

G.K. Chesterton
"When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude." – G. K. Chesterton   

Dennis Prager"Because gratitude is the key to happiness, anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations. There is an inverse relationship between expectations and gratitude: The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have." 
– Dennis Prager

Kahlil Gibran"I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind. I should not be ungrateful to those teachers.” – Kahlil Gibran  

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks"The greatest challenge is not slavery but freedom; not poverty but affluence; not danger but security; not homelessness but home. The paradox is that when we have most to thank G-d for, that is when we are in greatest danger of not thanking—nor even thinking of—G-d at all." – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks  

Tim Keller
"A person that is spirit-filled is always and in all things giving thanks." – Tim Keller    

Richelle E. Goodrich
"Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors." – Richelle E. Goodrich  

"Grateful eyes seek for the beauty in all things." – Anonymous   

Neale Donald Walsch
"The struggle ends when gratiude begins." – Neale Donald Walsch    

"It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy." – Anonymous   

"The most beautiful way to start and end the day is with a grateful heart." – Anonymous 

Robert Holden
"The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perceptionn to such an extent that it changes the world you see." – Robert Holden    

Daily Reflections"My love of God and others became the motivation factor in my life, with no thought of return. I realize now that giving freely is God’s way of expressing Himself through me.” – AA’s Daily Reflections   

"Contentment comes from accepting gratefully the good that comes to us, and not from raging at life because it is not better.” – One Day at A Time in Al-Anon   

Twenty-Four Hours a Day "Seek diligently for something to be glad and thankful about. You will acquire in time the habit of being constantly grateful to God for all His blessings."– Twenty-Four Hours a Day   

PTP123"Saying that 'I am a grateful alcoholic' will then reflect the truth about who we have become in our person, having understood deeply and intimately that God in his grace can turn any evil, any pain we have suffered or inflicted, to good purpose." – PTP123   

PTP4"As a virtue, gratitude disposes us to see the good we have as a gift. In spiritual terms, a good is a benefit, God is the benefactor, and we are the beneficiaries." 
– PTP4  

Practice These: Gratitude - Charles Dickens
Practice These: Gratitude - Anonymous

For more PTP123 passages on gratitude, see pp. 26, 29, 55–58. For PTP4, see pp. 41, 107, 126, 264, 272, 326, 387, 404, 405; and humility, 173; and loss, 174; as corrective of greed/envy, 403, 427; as corrective of regret, 249–250, 251, 252; as corrective of self-centered fear, 173–174; displacing shame, 228; as emotion, 122; as response to gift, 90, 398; attenuates grief, 404; for work, 91, 228; vs. ingratitude, 356. On this site, see "I'm Grateful to Be Sober, But . . . ," in Reflections. For more Big Book and 12&12passages, click on and search grateful, thanks, and gift. See also entries in As Bill Sees It.

Additional Resources

  1. "Privileged People," in As Bill Sees It, p.133
  2. Reflections for 03/25 and 05/21 in AA's Daily Reflections
  3. “Gratitude,” chapter in Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues, by Robert C. Roberts
  4. “Being Thankful: The Virtue of Gratitude,” chapter in How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad: Living a Life of Christian Virtue, by James S. Spiegel
  5. Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, the novel and the 2005 BBC Masterpiece Theater film version (the character of Esther Summerson, played by Anna Maxwell Martin)
  6. "Gratitude, Friendship, and Mutuality: Reflections on Three Characters in Bleak House," chapter by Robert Roberts in The Moral Psychology of Gratitude, edited by Robert Roberts and Daniel Telech.

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