Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Being Thankful Key to Happiness

Robert Emmons, writing at Big Questions, discerns the key to Happiness in the Queen of the Virtues - Gratitude.
In modern times gratitude has become untethered from its moral moorings and collectively, we are worse off because of this. When the Roman philosopher Cicero stated that gratitude was the queen of the virtues, he most assuredly did not mean that gratitude was merely a stepping-stone toward personal happiness. Gratitude is a morally complex disposition, and reducing this virtue to a technique or strategy to improve one’s mood is to do it an injustice.

Even restricting gratitude to an inner feeling is insufficient. In the history of ideas, gratitude is considered an action (returning a favor) that is not only virtuous in and of itself, but valuable to society. To reciprocate is the right thing to do. “There is no duty more indispensable that that of returning a kindness” wrote Cicero in a book whose title translates “On Duties.”

Cicero’s contemporary, Seneca, maintained that “He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment on his debt.” Neither believed that the emotion felt in a person returning a favor was particularly crucial. Conversely, across time, ingratitude has been treated as a serious vice, a greater vice than gratitude is a virtue. Ingratitude is the “essence of vileness,” wrote the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant while David Hume opined that ingratitude is “the most horrible and unnatural crime that a person is capable of committing.”
Emmons goes on to discuss the myriad benefits of a spirit of gratitude for both the individual and society:
To give a flavor of these research findings, dispositional gratitude has been found to be positively associated with qualities such as empathy, forgiveness, and the willingness to help others. For example, people who rated themselves as having a grateful disposition perceived themselves as having more prosocial characteristics, expressed by their empathetic behavior, and emotional support for friends within the last month.

When people report feeling grateful, thankful, and appreciative in studies of daily experience, they also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful, and enthusiastic. Notably, the family, friends, partners and others that surround them consistently report that people who practice gratitude are viewed as more helpful, more outgoing, more optimistic, and more trustworthy.
One of the most important passages in the essay, at least in my opinion, was when Emmons says this:
A spirit of ingratitude corrodes human relationships and becomes epidemic within a culture when entitlements and rights are prioritized over duties and obligations, laments Senior Fellow Roger Scruton of the American Enterprise Institute. Is it any wonder then, that the biggest fear that parents now have for their children is a sense of entitlement and the resentment produced when life fails to deliver what their children think they are entitled to?
When people come to see themselves as entitled their sense of gratitude withers. That's one of the corrosive effects of the modern welfare state - people feel they're owed something from others and consequently their sense of thankfulness is often attenuated. Moreover, when people are granted help from a nebulous, impersonal government it's much more difficult to be thankful for it than when it comes from concrete individual persons.

At any rate, I urge those readers who are searching for happiness in their lives to do a little introspection and ask themselves how grateful they are for what others do, and have done, for them. I also urge readers to read the rest of Emmons' article. There's a lot of wisdom in it.