“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
– Charles Dickens
A Life of Gratitude
It is a true privilege to be a human being, even though it entails 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Though we have troubles, our blessings are far more abundant. To me, the smallest joys in life make me immensely grateful – moments of silence, the sound of raindrops, the pastel colours of sunset, the fragrance of flowers and above all, lyrical words and meaningful writing. From the infinitesimal to the infinite, life is truly a gift from divinity and nothing happens without a reason.
A Mind of Gratitude – Seeing the Connections within Life
If we see the world through the lens of fragmentation and view people as separate individuals, we can be overwhelmed by the pain and the unfulfilled needs in this world. However, if we see the world from a position beyond the ego with a mindset of gratitude, we understand that everything is interconnected and the physical life itself is an expression of spirituality. Then, an attitude of humility and gratitude naturally follows.
When we understand that there is a larger context in which our personal story is unfolding, we are relieved from our personal desires and attachments. We learn that the value of our lives does not lie in how much personal happiness we have accumulated but in how much we have lived to serve and uplift others. From this perspective, we are ultimately grateful because we have been given the privilege to change and improve the lives of others in our personal sphere of influence – this is the basis for true gratitude.
Gratitude through the Vicissitudes of Life
Gratitude opens up the spiritual dimension to physical life. It frees us from worldly attachments and allows us to live with meaning and compassion through the vicissitudes of life. In life, we will inevitably face sorrows. Yet, many of our greatest blessings are disguised as sorrows. When we face adversities, we can either close our hearts or fully open our hearts so that we can be in a position to learn from the experience.
In the bible, Paul the Apostle instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV) Living with gratitude in all circumstances puts us in the position to receive and to learn from our experiences. From our limited perspective, we are not able to conceive of all the possibilities in a given situation. Sometimes, things that may seem unfortunate may turn out to be unforeseen blessings.
Gratitude and Relationships
When we meet people in our lives that we disagree with, we can either choose to see them as our enemies or as our teachers. The truth is, other people are merely projections of ourselves and they reflect what we cannot see in ourselves back to us.
Relationships help us to put what we understand in principle into practice. Though I had a difficult relationship with my father since young, I am immensely grateful because I learnt the true meaning of forbearance and forgiveness through this relationship. In life, the most difficult relationships can be our greatest treasures as they can teach us how to truly love. The lessons we learn from challenging relationships can help us to solidify our faith.
Gratitude and Generosity
Our capacity for experiencing gratitude is not dependent on how much we have been given. When I was young, I felt ashamed of my family because we did not have the wealth or privilege that other families enjoyed. Looking back, I am extremely grateful that despite the little that we had, my parents did not compromise on giving me a good education and made many personal sacrifices for me. Through learning to overcome my personal circumstances, I learnt to cultivate discipline, resilience and independence. I also learnt to find joy in the humblest of things and to give back to the community that supported me.
Real gratitude begins as genuine appreciation for life and for the opportunity to make a contribution to this world. From gratitude springs a desire to pass our blessings along to others and to live with generosity. In the book Lovingkindness, the author writes, “The Buddha said that no true spiritual life is possible without a generous heart. Generosity allies itself with an inner feeling of abundance – the feeling that we have enough to share.” Generosity begets generosity; however big or small, acts of generosity generate miracles in life and we often receive more than what we give.
Gratitude and Mindfulness
Gratitude and mindfulness go hand in hand. Mindfulness is based on observing our mental state and external reality with compassion and nonjudgemental awareness. When we choose to enter a state of mindfulness, we open our awareness to all aspects of our experience, including both positive or negative experiences. Although we cannot stop negative events from happening, we can control our reactions to these events by practising mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us to accept our circumstances and react with grace and compassion. Practising mindfulness helps us to cultivate gratitude that is independent of external circumstances.
Gratitude is a way of life and a regular practice of gratitude can enhance our lives in a multitude of ways including improving our relationships and mental wellbeing. Gratitude can be cultivated through these simple practices:
- Learn to live in the moment: the present moment is all we truly have access to. Learning to live in the moment helps us to be grateful for the opportunities we have in the present instead of focusing on the past or future.
- Learn to shift our perceptions: instead of focusing on the negative emotions in a difficult situation, we can change our focus to the possibilities and the opportunities that the situation presents.
- Identify the hidden lessons and silver linings in each situation: list down occasions in which we have faced challenges and responded without gratitude, then identify the hidden lessons in each situation and think about how to respond with gratitude.
- Practise gratitude affirmations: this may be as simple as saying “I am grateful for everything I encounter today” or “I am grateful for all the exciting opportunities in life.”
- Keep a gratitude journal: note down at least 3 things we feel grateful for each day.
- Remember and count our blessings: “gratitude is the heart’s memory”; we must learn to remember the people who have journeyed with us thus far in life and remember the blessings we have been given in the past.
- Give back: gratitude and generosity goes hand in hand – acts of generosity can reinforce our positive emotions of gratitude.
Life is constantly changing and recreating itself, presenting us with unique challenges and new miracles each day. As the poet Pablo Neruda writes, “you can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” When we face life with an attitude of gratitude, we open our hearts to the full spectrum of human experiences learn to embrace both the challenges and miracles that life presents.
p.s. Leave a comment if this resonated with you. I love to hear your stories!
Wow . I wrote down in my journal that I want to be free . ( people may think I…
Wow I love this ! How funny is that these last few days the craziest things been happening to me…
This reflection gave me so much peace. I too find myself drawn into the old but excited for the new.…
I love this post! I also grew up in a culture that praises the outcome of suffering. Agree with your…
What an excellent article–insightful and rich! Thank you for sharing with us! Namaste
Everything may be a path but some paths should be avoided.
Nice post. Bob
You write like a true Buddhist. Hope you find enlightment without suffering. Namaste.
It is through the dark that we find our light. I love this thank you.