Gratitude: The Ultimate Virtue

Last night was the first session of the monthly “Deepening” series Christine Luna Munger and I facilitate at St. Catherine University.  This is our third series: Two years ago we focused on deepening our experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. ignatius and last year we deepened our experience of the Christian Mystics.  This year our focus is on Christian prayers and practices.

In our first session last night, the practice I shared about is Gratitude and the prayer, the Examen.

We started with gratitude because it is such a foundational practice.  Ron Rolheiser speaks of gratitude as the “ultimate virtue.”  Gratitude, even more so than love, makes us saints, Rolheiser claims, “because love is only real when it’s fueled by gratitude. If it’s fueled by resentment or duty, it’s going to cause resentment or be manipulative. If someone asks, ‘Who’s the most saintly person you know?’ I would say the most grateful person.”

During my talk I spoke about the values and benefits of practicing gratitude and shared some practices for growing to the point where gratitude becomes the natural stance out of which we operate.

One of the practices we talked about was keeping a gratitude journal, of getting into the habit of recording three to five things for which you’re grateful every day. It may be something big or something as little as an unexpected smile or greeting from another person.

The idea of keeping a gratitude journal is not a new one. One of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice was Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:

  1. Who or what inspired me today?
  2. What brought me happiness today?
  3. What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

This practice, wrote Spinoza, would help us find more meaning and joy in our lives and would lead to profound inner transformation.

If this is not a current practice of yours, you might it and see what difference it makes in your outlook.

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