Is Gratitude a Virtue?

Terry Mahoney
November 28 2019


I believe having an “attitude of gratitude”, as the cliché goes, is a good character trait especially if inherent but in years past I struggled to accept it being labelled a virtue.

Virtue to my mind denoted an inherent morality that is absolute- requiring no prompting or trigger to reveal itself. Virtue, I thought, simply is. One is either, at heart, virtuous…or not.

If that is the case, gratitude would not be a virtue, as it is always predicated upon a favorable action initiated by another person, entity or circumstance.

Goodness of Gratitude

Now, being grateful is a good thing of course.

The fact that gratitude is a response and not an initiative does not cheapen it, as it were. One ought to feel and show gratitude for all kinds of reasons such as manners, kindness, good fortune, Divine grace and, perhaps surprisingly, spiritual, mental and physical health. 

It has long been proven that people with an attitude or constant mood of thankfulness are generally happier, and healthier, than those who harbor fewer positive emotions.

It does seem most people with such a thankful attitude about life itself, in spite of inevitable upset, have generally sunnier personalities overall.

Can People Change their Spots?

It is doubtful personality depends upon one being born on a Friday or a Wednesday. More, or so it seems, it is a matter of inherent predisposition (passive) combined with purposeful character development (active).

Generally, our culture accepts the premise that changing ones proverbial spots is so organic as to be virtually impossible. Our own experience and observation sometimes shows this, in the natural, to be mostly true.

Until, that is, one considers the transformative promise, and premise, of the Gospel of Christ.

Lives Transformed through Jesus

The lives of those who truly experienced and modeled that promised transformation are an inspiration.

For example; St Francis. of whom it was said:

“There is a virtue that describes well his whole life: ‘GRATITUDE’…The humble saint of Assisi was a grateful son of God, a brother to all neighbors and a creature of the universe.”

Notice the quote contends his gratitude was, in his case, virtue.

Could it be?

Well, maybe for he was not always so. His radical and perhaps miraculous transformation and ensuing inspiring life is well known and documented.

When Francis submitted and subordinated his life to God, completely, everything about him changed. It is on that miraculous fact I dare to posit; he changed “tran-substantially”. His outward appearance did not change but the very essence of Francis did change radically and not by any personal effort beyond surrender- he was indeed a new creation in Jesus the Christ.

True Gratitude

Gratitude, in those so transformed, is no longer simply a thoughtful response to the kind initiative of another. It is not merely a desirable and socially laudable character trait developed through fleshly discipline.

Virtuous gratitude, in its purity, flows from godly character, imputed to us, and not sparingly or occasionally.

It is always and forever emanating from the essence of our Creator in whose likeness we are formed.

True gratitude cannot exist, as a virtue, apart from Him. 


Terry Mahoney is a Chaplain with Corporate Chaplains!  To read more blog posts from our Chaplains, you can visit our Corportate Chaplains page.

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