Giving gratitude for your blessings is considered in many traditions to be a path to joy. In fact, one study on gratitude determined that people who regularly express thankfulness are 25% happier. Moving through life, we get to choose whether to illuminate what we have, or focus on what we don’t have.
It blows me away that where I live in Los Angeles people have unimaginable riches yet there is still tremendous unhappiness. You can have all the money in the world, but if you focus on what is missing then you are always going to feel lack and emptiness.
I remember on a yoga retreat to Kerala, India the highlight of the trip was taking our group to a very poor fisherman’s village. As we got out of our boat we had to carefully navigate the trash and debris. When we arrived to the local church our group was mobbed by small children. They didn’t want money, candy, or clothes, they just wanted simple school supplies. We gave them pencils and erasers and their faces erupted with tremendous joy and happiness! The purity of their joy was contagious. The breadth of those children’s smiles is still etched into the memory of my consciousness.
I think about the meditation teacher Trudy Goodman who recently visited a remote village in Africa as part of a charity group. Many of these types of groups inadvertently go into these kinds of places thinking they know what’s best. In this case, instead of presuming they knew everything, Trudy and her team asked the villagers what they needed most. The villagers replied, “soccer and pre-school.” They wanted soccer to bring them joy and they wanted pre-school to provide hope for the next generation.
At one community center in Watts, California a lady noticed a stray, hungry cat. After she went to a local market she set out a can of cat food. Nearby, a group of men playing cards stopped to watch. One man exclaimed, “He don’t know what do with that!” Before he could even finish his sentence the cat dove into the can of cat foot devouring every last morsel. The cat was given the name Baldy. For months Baldy would show up every afternoon for his meal, and the men would always stop to watch. It was one of the rare times these men could truly see a righteous act fully being met.
One group of Russian astronauts were in outer space when they experienced technical difficulties with their space shuttle. The chance they wouldn’t make it back to planet Earth loomed large. The ground crew were able to miraculously get the astronauts home safe and sound. As the crew exited the shuttle each one dropped to the ground and kissed the earth with tears in their eyes.
These examples remind us of the beauty and sacredness of life. What is it that you take for granted? Let gratitude be your prayer and you will experience a joy like no other! Regularly give gratitude for your access to education, sports and exercise, food, the planet, the air you breathe, your relationships, and your ability to create a life of health and happiness. You are so blessed!
Practice Tip: The practice of gratitude will transform it from a temporary state to a permanent trait. But you must practice! You can practice by keeping a gratitude journal, going for gratitude walks, and/or keeping a household gratitude jar where every day each person drops in piece of paper of what they are grateful for. Then on special days like Thanksgiving or New Year’s you can read through all the notes!
Current Reading: “Being Dharma” by Ajahn Chah