There have been numerous studies done about the benefits of expressing gratitude on a regular basis. Being thankful for the good things in your life helps people better deal with adversity, feel more positive emotions, improve their health, and build strong relationships. In these Stoic quotes on gratitude, though, you'll see that these ancient philosophers believed that you should be grateful for everything that happens to you, not just the occurrences that appear to be blessings.
Practicing gratitude for the bad things that happen to you can be a serious challenge. After all, how can you be thankful that you lost your job, your dad died, or your basement flooded?
As you dive deeper into the beliefs and ideas of the Stoic philosophers, though, you start to gain a more zoomed-out perspective on life. You realize that some of the "worst" things that ever happened to you were the catalyst for your most significant personal growth.
Cultivating an attitude of gratefulness (for all things, not just the good) can seriously change your life for the better, but don't just take it from me. Let's check in with the great Stoic philosophers and other Stoic-minded thinkers and see what they have to say on the topic of gratitude.
"Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart." – Seneca
"The law of the pleasure in having done anything for another is, that the one almost immediately forgets having given, and the other remembers eternally having received." – Seneca
"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness." – Seneca
It's easy in our busy world to treat every interaction like a transaction. To try and put this Seneca quote into practice, keep it at the front of your mind the next time you check out at the grocery store.
"He who receives a benefit with gratitude, repays the first installment of it." – Seneca
"The mind is a matter over every kind of fortune; itself acts in both ways, being the cause of its own happiness and misery." – Seneca
"There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it." – Seneca
"See how many are better off than you are, but consider how many are worse." – Seneca
Looking to people who have more than you can be a great way to motivate yourself to reach your goals. At the same time, it can be dangerously easy to fall into envy, jealousy, and bitterness. Don't forget to look around and realize just how much more you have than others and find the space to be grateful for the things that you do have.
"There is no benefit so large that malignity will not lessen it; none so narrow that a good interpretation will not enlarge it." – Seneca
"If I only have the will to be grateful, I am so." – Seneca
It isn't always easy to be grateful, especially when you're trying to be thankful for something that seems outright terrible. It is a matter of will, though, to find the space for gratitude in all circumstances.
"Epicurus says, "gratitude is a virtue that has commonly profit annexed to it." And where is the virtue that has not? But still the virtue is to be valued for itself, and not for the profit that attends it." – Seneca
"There is as much greatness of mind in the owning of a good turn as in the doing of it; and we must no more force a requital out of season than be wanting in it." – Seneca
"There is nothing that we can properly call our own but our time, and yet everybody fools us out of it who has a mind to do it. If a man borrows a paltry sum of money, there must needs be bonds and securities, and every common civility is presently charged upon account. But he who has my time thinks he owes me nothing for it, though it be a debt that gratitude itself can never repay." – Seneca
While Seneca the Younger is arguing about feeling gratitude in one's life, he also isn't saying you should drop everything and freely give everyone else your time. Considering that time is one of the few things that "we can properly call our own," always be conscious of who you give your time to and don't let others simply take it from you.
"Let the man, who would be grateful, think of repaying a kindness, even while receiving it." – Seneca
"As gratitude is a necessary, and a glorious virtue, so also it is an obvious, a cheap, and an easy one; so obvious that wherever there is life there is a place for it; so cheap, that the covetous man may be gratified without expense, and so easy that the sluggard may be so likewise without labor." – Seneca
“It’s in keeping with Nature to show our friends affection and to celebrate their advancement, as if it were our very own. For if we don’t do this, virtue, which is strengthened only by exercising our perceptions, will no longer endure in us.” — Seneca
When someone close to you wins a victory of some sort, do you take the time to really connect with them and feel gratitude for them as you would yourself? In our busy, internet-focused world, it's easy to not make this type of genuine connection. Gratitude shouldn't just be for our own experiences, though, but also for the advancement of those we truly love.
"We should try by all means to be as grateful as possible. For gratitude is a good thing for ourselves, in a sense in which justice, that is commonly supposed to concern other persons, is not; gratitude returns in large measure unto itself. There is not a man who, when he has benefited his neighbour, has not benefited himself, — I do not mean for the reason that he whom you have aided will desire to aid you, or that he whom you have defended will desire to protect you, or that an example of good conduct returns in a circle to benefit the doer, just as examples of bad conduct recoil upon their authors, and as men find no pity if they suffer wrongs which they themselves have demonstrated the possibility of committing; but that the reward for all the virtues lies in the virtues themselves. For they are not practised with a view to recompense; the wages of a good deed is to have done it. I am grateful, not in order that my neighbour, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, may be more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful act; I feel grateful, not because it profits me, but because it pleases me." – Seneca
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” – Seneca
If you've ever had a period of bitterness in your life, it can feel impossible to be grateful for anything, let alone the present moment. The wise words of Seneca, though, indicate that the things that we should be most grateful for are inside of us at all times and always accessible.
“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. ” – Seneca
“If you admit to having derived great pleasures, your duty is not to complain about what has been taken away but to be thankful for what you have been given…” – Seneca
The Stoic perspective really looks at like from a larger timeframe, which can allow you to not be so ruled by the whims of your mood and emotions. If something you were grateful for has been taken away from you, that doesn't mean that you can't still be grateful for the fact that you were able to have the experience when you did.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." – Epictetus
If you can learn to be grateful for the things that you have, your life will start to improve right away. When you focus your attention on the fact that you don't have what you want, it's going to be difficult to find happiness or peace.
"We need to regularly stop and take stock; to sit down and determine within ourselves which things are worth valuing and which things are not; which risks are worth the cost and which are not. Even the most confusing or hurtful aspects of life can be made more tolerable by clear seeing and by choice." – Epictetus
“Remember to conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet. As something being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take a moderate helping. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. It hasn’t yet come? Don’t burn in desire for it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. Act this way with children, a spouse, toward position, with wealth—one day it will make you worthy of a banquet with the gods.” — Epictetus
If we can see ourselves as a part of a larger network that involves the people around us, nature, fate, and perhaps even God or the gods, it can radically change the way that we relate to what we have and what we don't have.
You can check out some more Epictetus quotes here.
"Each day provides its own gifts." – Marcus Aurelius
Sometimes we can be so focused on the long-term goals that we forget to appreciate the little things. No matter where you are or how low you are in your life, you can find something to be grateful for if you take the time to look low enough.
"Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours." – Marcus Aurelius
"Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already." – Marcus Aurelius
"Mark how fleeting and paltry is the estate of man - yesterday in embryo, tomorrow a mummy or ashes. So for the hairsbreadth of time assigned to thee, live rationally, and part with life cheerfully, as drops the ripe olive, extolling the season that bore it and the tree that matured it." – Marcus Aurelius
If you find yourself frustrated by the conditions of your life, Marcus Aurelius can be a great mentor in the school of gaining life perspective. When you remember just how fleeting life is, it can allow you to stop wasting time worrying about the wrong things and let you start spending time living life at the moment with gratitude.
"Take full account of what Excellencies you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not." –Marcus Aurelius
"The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it - either gratefully better than or bitterly worse than something else that you alone choose." –Marcus Aurelius
"Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee." – Marcus Aurelius
"In an expression of true gratitude, sadness is conspicuous only by its absence." – Marcus Aurelius
"Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly." – Marcus Aurelius
If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do with your time? Would you keep worrying about whatever it is that's on your mind right now? If you're caught up thinking about the fact that your boss is being passive-aggressive, would that still be what you spent your time focused on if you knew you had 24 hours to live?
No, probably not. Can you cultivate an attitude where you try to only engage in actions and thoughts that are meaningful from the perspective of your deathbed? Yes, you can.
“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.” — Marcus Aurelius
"When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love." – Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius certainly wins my prize for the most poetic and romantic of the Stoics. No matter where you are and what you're doing, it's possible to be grateful for the sheer privilege of being alive.
“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
"The desire for imaginary benefits often involves the loss of present blessings." – Aesop
How many wonderful things in your life are you ignoring in order to focus on desiring that one thing you don't have?
“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
“The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house." – Henry David Thoreau
Ain't it the truth? No matter how perfect a moment is, we can all find something to complain about if we're hell-bent on being unhappy. Work to find things that you find beautiful and pleasant even in the worst of situations, and you'll be much less likely to miss the best moments of life.
"Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life." – Rumi
“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” – Benjamin Franklin
"Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds." – Theodore Roosevelt
Being grateful is more than just speaking the words commonly associated with thankfulness. It is a feeling, a sensation in the body, and it is something that you can express to others through what you do rather than what you say.
"I am grateful for what I have. My thanksgiving is perpetual." – Henry David Thoreau
"Gratitude is the wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk." – Rumi
"Gratefulness for what is there is one of the most powerful tools for creating what is not yet there. What does gratefulness mean? It means you appreciate what is. You value, you give attention to, you honor whatever is here at this moment." – Eckhart Tolle
"Be in a state of gratitude for everything that shows up in your life. Be thankful for the storms as well as the smooth sailing. What is the lesson or gift in what you are experiencing right now? Find your joy not in what's missing in your life but in how you can serve." – Wayne Dyer
"Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received." – Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein is culturally synonymous with the concept of genius, but that doesn't keep him from recognizing the importance of gratitude. Not only do we have the people around us to be grateful for, but also those that built the world that we currently live in.
"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see - i.e. compare it to, something worse or better, that determines whether you are respectively grateful and happy or ungrateful and bitter." – Henry David Thoreau
"I was complaining that I had no shoes till I met a man who had no feet." – Confucius
"When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around." – Willie Nelson
If things aren't going well for you in your life, what if you stopped and seriously considered what you have to be grateful for? It could end up being the most important thing you ever do and change the course of your life forever.
"We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives." – John F. Kennedy
"Thankfulness brings you to the place where the Beloved lives." – Rumi
"When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears." – Tony Robbins
"Of all the 'attitudes' we can acquire, surely the attitude of gratitude is the most important and by far the most life-changing." – Zig Ziglar
"Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance." – Eckhart Tolle
In this string of quotes, we see that gratefulness is an antidote to fear and an essential ingredient in living a life of abundance. You can criticize the self-help world all you want, but you have to admit there are some pretty Stoic thoughts hidden in the words of people like Tony Robbins and Eckhart Tolle.
"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." – Marcel Proust
"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward
"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough." – Oprah Winfrey
This idea comes up over and over again, so much so that it's worth really thinking about.
Is it possible that you can end up getting what you want in life by being thankful for what you have? By changing your attitude about life and the world, can you really change what happens to you in life?
While it might sound like some "Law of Attraction" type notion, the idea is proposed by some of the most successful people that have ever lived. For that reason alone, you might want to consider whether truly appreciating what you have could be the missing piece in your life that is keeping you from true success and fulfillment.
"A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things." – Plato
"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little." – Gautama Buddha
"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies." – John Milton
This beautiful quote touches upon something that is definitely worth contemplating. If we allow ourselves to feel grateful, we open ourselves up to being able to shamelessly and fearlessly feel deep respect for existence and the world. Being willing to feel reverence towards our experience and environment can let us tap into moments of insight, inspiration, and realization.
"O Lord that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!" – William Shakespeare
"Gratitude is the sign of noble souls." – Aesop
"When you go deeply into the present, gratitude arises spontaneously, even if it's just gratitude for breathing, gratitude for the aliveness that you feel in your body. Gratitude is there when you acknowledge the aliveness of the present moment." – Eckhart Tolle
The Stoics often talk about not getting caught up in the past and the future but instead being able to actually live in the present. Here, Tolle talks about the fact that truly being in the present moment is a way to access your gratitude.
"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." – Thornton Wilder
"Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some." – Charles Dickens
Why is it easier to remember all the bad things that happened to us than the good? Why is it easier to focus on our disappointments in the past than our victories in the present? If you can shift where you're putting your attention, it can change your attitude instantaneously.
"The appreciation of life does not require wealth or plenty. It requires only gratitude for the beauty of the world." – Ming-Dao Deng
"You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy." – Gautama Buddha
"It is better to light one small candle of gratitude than to curse the darkness." – Confucius
If things aren't going your way in life, it can be tempting to have an attitude of bitterness and resentment. What good is it, though, to scream profanities at an oncoming storm? No matter how bad things get, there is something you can find to be grateful for. At the very least, you can work to be grateful for the challenging experience you are going through that, if you succeed, will spit you out the other end wiser and stronger.
In a culture that seems to be hell-bent on cynicism and nihilism, it can feel a bit strange to start practicing gratitude. Sincerely giving thanks for what you have in life and for your experiences can feel, well, corny. It doesn't have to be that way, though, and if you're willing to step outside your comfort zone and feel genuine gratitude, it won't take long to start feeling the benefits.
One of the reasons I believe that Stoicism has become popular in recent years is because it's easy to feel like the world we live in is out of control. We have access to information from all corners of the globe at all hours of the day, and we're inundated constantly with breaking news and trending topics of the minute. It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of it all.
The writings of the Stoics and those that have been influenced by them over the millennia can serve as a powerful and much-needed antidote to the stresses of the modern day. When you engage with Stoic ideas, you tap into a timeless, human world where the ultimate goal is to lead a virtuous life. Through the ability to understand what is under your control and what isn't, Stoic thought isn't just fun food-for-thought to chew on, but it can actually radically change your life for the better.
If you can use the teachings of Stoicism to learn to love your fate, you'll likely feel an immense change in your life. For more Stoic ideas to help you on your journey, be sure to check out our growing library of Stoic quotes.