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Seneca: “being grateful is more conducive to your own good than to your neighbour’s good…”

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  • Seneca: “being grateful is more conducive to your own good than to your neighbour’s good…”

From Seneca’s “Letters to Lucilius” ( Letter 81, 1st century A.D.):”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. And, to prove the truth of this to you, I declare that even if I may not be grateful without seeming ungrateful, even if I am able to return a benefit only by an act which resembles an injury; even so, I shall strive in the utmost calmness of spirit toward the purpose which honour demands, in the very midst of disgrace. No one, I think, rates virtue higher or is more consecrated to virtue than he who has lost his reputation for being a good man in order to keep from losing the approval of his conscience.

Thus, as I have said, your being grateful is more conducive to your own good than to your neighbour’s good. For while your neighbour has had a common, everyday experience, – namely, receiving back the gift which he had bestowed, – you have had a great experience which is the outcome of an utterly happy condition of soul, – to have felt gratitude. For if wickedness makes men unhappy and virtue makes men blest, and if it is a virtue to be grateful, then the return which you have made is only the customary thing, but the thing to which you have attained is priceless, – the consciousness of gratitude, which comes only to the soul that is divine and blessed.

The opposite feeling to this, however, is immediately attended by the greatest unhappiness; no man, if he be ungrateful, will be unhappy in the future. I allow him no day of grace; he is unhappy forthwith. “

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