Editorial: Gratitude? Yes, please. Thankfulness provides a foundation for human society itself.

On this day, we’re especially mindful of how difficult 2020 has made finding reasons to be thankful. Illness, loss, political turmoil and economic anxiety have haunted us for most of this year.

Or so we thought. We asked readers what about this year, despite everything, they had to be grateful for. And from all over, we received proof positive that even in the midst of trial, life offers plenty of reasons to smile.

As we read these brief testimonials, we’re reminded of something the English thinker Thomas Hobbes had to say a very long time ago: That without gratitude human society breaks down. Hobbes, writing in 1651, began with an unromantic assessment of human nature. He believed that everything we do in this world, we do for ourselves. If you’re nice to your neighbor, it’s because harmonious relations advances your own self-interests, he wrote in “The Leviathan.” To put it in a contemporary context, when we tip the waiter, it’s because we expect that by rewarding good service, we’re more likely to receive it in the future.

To Hobbes though, that didn’t reduce the necessity that we find ways to feel gratitude whenever goods things that are not our due — that we are not owed by any law or contract — come our way. He called it the fourth law of nature, and without it he said the world would quickly fall into the state of nature in which humans lived before we developed societies built on mutual reliance. Life in the state of nature, he famously wrote, “was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

In other words, gratitude, like justice, is an essential building block of society. That comes through clearly in the letters you’ll find below, as when Bill Connolly of Houston explains how mentors within his 12-step community have extended themselves to help those struggling with addiction. “They have lightened the load and have been beacons of hope in one of our most difficult times,” he writes.

When we express gratitude for acts of grace, those responsible for that grace take note, Hobbes reasoned. It’s an incentive to keep acting in a way that both derives from and engenders further trust in our fellow man. More religious writers since have argued that the source of the grace we find most often in our lives comes not from our neighbor but from God.

We hope you’ll get as much satisfaction as we did from reading these 20-plus stories of the way grace has played out, often in small or unexpected ways, in the lives of readers just like you. Maybe they’ll encourage you, as they did us, to look again at this stressful, trying year and find evidence of an abiding community that will yet thrive.

And for those who take a more spiritual view than Hobbes, as many writers on grace have, may you find in these stories fuel for love and faith.

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