The Parent of All Virtues

July 15, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Image by Hisaya Katagami.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Cicero

One of our most consistent bedtime routines with our children centers around remembering our favorite things from the day. We each try to list three wonderful things that happened in an effort to cultivate that virtue of gratitude. Sometimes our sons prove their very short memories and seem to only be able to remember the previous twenty minutes. Other times they are more thoughtful and their lists stretch well beyond three items. Time with friends usually tops our boys’ charts and the best jokes of the day as well as family activities make frequent appearances.

Although our boys’ responses are sometimes casual or even flippant, I hope we’re helping them develop a mental muscle, teaching them the practice of feeling grateful every day for the good that happens in their lives. Our initial motivation for helping our boys develop gratitude wasn’t based on research, but there’s actually a growing body of scientific evidence on the benefits of gratitude.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons has pioneered the field of gratitude research at UC Davis and summarizes some of his incredible findings in his book, Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, he writes, “When people regularly cultivate gratitude, they experience a multitude of psychological, physical, interpersonal, and spiritual benefits. Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait — more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion.” Additionally, “people who experience gratitude can cope more effectively with everyday stress, show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health,” including benefits to blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Amazing!

Although most personality traits remain stable throughout our lives (I’m looking at you, procrastination), Dr. Emmons has found that developing the practice of gratitude can drastically change us in a relatively short amount of time.

I’m curious if you’ve ever had a moment of gratitude significantly influence your happiness? What helps you and your family practice gratitude in your lives? What are the things for which you’re most grateful?

P.S. — Mara’s post about gratitude in the face of failed IVF is a beautiful demonstration of this concept.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shannon July 16, 2013 at 7:54 am

The most significant moment of gratitude I’ve experienced was actually something my husband said. Several years ago, he suffered a serious spinal cord injury and spent weeks in the hospital and then months recovering (he’s still recovering). But the incredible kindness and generosity of our family, friends, and community led him to say one day, “Other than the accident itself, this has been a wonderful experience.”

His attitude helped transform something terrible into something meaningful, and his words continue to remind me that ultimately we choose how we see the world, and we can choose to be grateful.

One other thing: One night I came home after a long day at the hospital to find a blank envelope containing a significant amount of cash in our mailbox (enough to cover my lack of freelancing for a couple of months while he was recovering). To this day I have no idea who put it there, but the generosity of that gift goes beyond the money: when you don’t know who exactly to be grateful to, you just have to be grateful to everyone!


2 rachel swartley July 16, 2013 at 8:48 am

Long before the #firstworldproblems hashtag became popular, I have often tried to check my own attitude and adjust my perspective when I’m feeling grumpy about something. When there’s sand in the van, I can be thankful that we have reliable transportation and the luxury of a vacation. Washing dishes after supper means we had enough food to eat. Waking up in the middle of the night to feed my baby means I didn’t die in childbirth. We have so much to be grateful for!


3 Lindsey July 23, 2013 at 4:02 am

I love this! <3


4 Stella July 16, 2013 at 10:14 am

I love that this is part of your bedtime routine with your kids. When I have kids, I want to remember this one. And maybe I should start implementing it into my own bedtime routine right now. When I’m feeling grumpy I like to complain and be miserable…. but my husband likes to try and distract me by asking about something good in my day. Usually this annoys me at first ;) but after a few minutes, it really does change my whole mood. Thank goodness for that happy, grateful husband of mine!


5 Kelsey July 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I love this post! I’m in the midst of a lot of life changes (just graduated from grad school, a baby due in the fall, moving back to my rural hometown, helping with caregiving for my father with Alzheimer’s) and I sometimes feel like I’m trapped in an endless cycle of stress. Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that I really need to incorporate more mindfulness into my life so I can appreciate the gifts I’ve been given while I’m blessed to still have them. Having gratitude as the focus of my mindfulness feels so exciting and right and can be so simple to find in my daily life. Thank you for this post and the little push to be more grateful.


6 Loni July 17, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I keep a daily gratitude journal; it helps me really focus on what I have to be grateful for. I try not to name the same things, so coming up with something new every day is a constant reminder that I have much to be grateful for. I love the idea of asking your boys about their favorite things of the day. It’s good to have them reflect because we all have such unique moments during every day.


7 Mara Kofoed July 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Dear Amy, thanks so much for sharing my post here! I actually think of you so fondly because I got to see you that first night I went out after we got the news. It was wonderful to see a friend when I walked in the door at Sunday Suppers. xo


8 Nicole_boldgoods July 20, 2013 at 7:25 am

I love this post, and agree wholeheartedly. My husband finished law school last year, and I just finished. He’s still under-employed, and I’m unemployed, so we’ve spent the entire time we’ve known each other basically at the poverty level. Nonetheless, we have a ritual of starting dinner every night with three things we are thankful for, and it is such a rewarding practice! It also helps us remember why we are in love, because undoubtedly one of us is most thankful for a kindness the other one showed us that day.


9 Lindsey July 23, 2013 at 4:05 am

This post – and the lovely comments – has inspired me to buy the book and reclaim my gratitude. During my pregnancy and following our move to Switzerland, I was so grateful and so happy! But since then I’ve settled into a bit of a rut. I find myself feeling jealous of what others have or overwhelmed with living abroad long-term. Really I have everything to be thankful for and it’s true that an attitude of gratitude is incredibly powerful. Thank you, Amy and Gabby! xoxoxoxoxo


10 helen July 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm

my profoundest experience with gratitude was when my much loved mom was in surgery. after having her ear removed (she had cancer in her ear) she started to bleed dramatically. she was in such rough shape that we were told to clear thing from her hospital bedside. at best she would be in ICU and at worst … well, you get it. i was devastated. but i had been practicing my gratitude moments with alarming regularity at this point and remember so clearly being in a big parkade in a shopping mall buying food to feed the living. it all felt so raw and weighty. i found gratitude in the small blessing – the parking spot right in front where i wanted to shop, the shopping cart right where i needed it … it was healing and so helpful. my mom lived another 10 years – we referred to those as her bonus years:) but that brush with gratitude’s work has informed so much of my life since. as a family we do it regularly around the supper table. it shifts so much for me:) thanks for writing about gratitude:)


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