Remember the old nursery rhyme, “This Is the House That Jack Built”?
“This is the cat that killed the rat
That ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.”
Imagine how many lives could have been saved if we replaced all the killing and eating and worrying with the simple act of thanking!
Picture for a second, a world in which the cat thanks the rat that lies in the house, and the dog thanks the cat that just thanked the rat.
I’m kidding (sort of). We’re not aiming to save lives here so much as honor them for the relatively brief time we’re here.
As with all the great, simple things in life, it can be extraordinarily difficult to remain in a state of gratitude, to remember not to default into a life of indifference or complaint when we can be grateful instead. (Guilty!)
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
By way of reminding us to turn things around on the gratitude front, here are five reasons we should say thanks, based on some teachings I was fortunate to receive over the last few years:
1. Everyone is on the winning end of gratitude.
Watch what happens when we’re filled with gratitude. We wake up, thank our lucky stars we’re here to see another day, smile at or hug our loved ones—or ourselves—so that they, in turn, can go out into the day flooded with goodwill they might pour onto others.
It’s implied that we have respect for the objects of our gratitude. We value all things and all people in this state. We are by proxy respecting the principle of equality itself, and the beneficiaries of this are all beings—including you.
This is how good communities and good societies are built, for every single one of us.
2. Gratitude magnifies mindfulness and with both we can change the world.
“Stop to smell the roses” is a cliché for a reason. We stop and are reminded instantly that a smell this delectable is possible. An instant gratitude arises that can make our hearts burst. Imagine a state of such complete mindfulness that we never forget to smell each and every one of those roses.
Mindfulness is a skill we can develop. Eyes and heart wide open, we are flooded with gratitude for the wonders around us, and want to do everything in our power to keep things this way. And so we act to make it happen.
The good news is that the more we practice mindfulness the easier it becomes—(I’m just starting to learn this, baby steps!)—and gratitude is always right there as both salve and reward for a job mindfully done.
3. Just by being grateful , you have instantly filled your life with more things to be grateful for.
I remember reading in Aurobindo somewhere that the two greatest qualities we can cultivate are gratitude and enthusiasm. With these, the world is ours to take.
Take what? Even more, and with happy thanks! Simple, but true.
Gratitude is exponential. (So is suffering, and annoyance, and joy, and more or less every state of mind). Try it.
Try sitting down and making a list of all the things you’re grateful for. After the first few things you might hit a wall, and then things will start throwing themselves at you, and you can’t write fast enough.
With this attitude, step out into the day and you might be surprised by how many seemingly new things and situations are out there to knock you over in the best way possible.
Ah, those gratitude-tinted glasses.
4. Because when you can say thank you, you are essentially learning to forgive and to be happy.
In Tibetan Buddhism, they say you’ve been connected to every single sentient being at some point, and that you should treat each one like a mother who has loved and cared for and nurtured you, because each being, in effect, has done this for you.
Would you kill, or harm, or utter bad words in return? Rather, we may be incredibly grateful to every being for the part they have played in our very existence. With this in mind, it’s impossible to stay angry or harbor negative thoughts toward anyone.
We all know how good it feels when we can finally let our anger go. Fights make us feel lousy on every level, while making up—with genuine forgiveness as the basis—is the most liberating feeling in the world.
Instead of being angry at someone, then, we can try to thank him or her for all past, present, and future kindnesses they have directed toward us. We may also be grateful for how much their button-pushing behavior is helping you learn about yourself and how to forgive.
5. To have gratitude is to love.
A lot of what’s happening in the world today is evidence of what can happen when compassion is missing, on personal, societal and global levels. Compassion is more than a fuzzy-wuzzy feeling of goodwill, it is a mind-heart set that can make or break the world we live in.
Unconditional love. If we have this, there will no longer be an object of anger, because anger no longer exists. Loving all beings and wishing for their happiness and an end to their suffering is the basis for compassion and it’s predicated on gratitude.
To love is to be grateful for, and to love—really love—is to have everything.
5 1/2. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says so, and what other reason do we need?
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” ~ H.H. Dalai Lama
His Holiness has said, “I do not judge the universe.” I can’t think of a better comment than this.
What do we have to gain by critiquing something far too vast for us to comprehend? Once we can implicitly trust that the universe is what it is,which is what it is—(you get what I’m saying)—it’s about acceptance, and gratitude!
I can’t think of any better proof for the efficacy of gratitude than to watch His Holiness—for whom gratitude is fundamental to existence—giggle from the deepest place inside.http://youtu.be/2OcvFCa4tFw
Exercises to practice gratitude:
1. Go out of your way to thank someone for being in your life today.
2. When you wake up in the morning, say a heartfelt thank you for the privilege of being alive, and before going to bed at night review the day and find all the things you have to be grateful for.
3. At your next meal, visualize all the work it took to bring every single element of the meal to your plate, from the people you bought your food from, to those who harvested/farmed/packaged/cooked it, to the people who have taken care of those people, and back and back. Source your meal and savor each bite!
(I have one of my meditation instructors, Jonas, to thank for guiding us students through this process so beautifully).
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Assistant Editor: Kathryn Ashworth/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
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