Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Being Grateful

A recent thank-you note arrived with this line quoted, although no source for the quote was provided: "A grateful heart knows many joys."

This is perhaps not the most profound thought in human history, yet it caught my attention because I had been thinking of the relation between gratefulness and happiness.

Influenced by a book on gratitude by David Steindl-Rast, I have noted in several talks and at least one article the importance of acknowledging the value of even the simplest of things; such gratitude is an important form of prayer.

Being grateful for the beauties of each day, for the people I know, for my life experiences, for the countless good things in my life is a powerful antidote to cynicism and depression. Even though I do not hold God personally responsible for micro-managing the creation He has entrusted to us, it is hard not to connect gratefulness and prayerfulness. And also to see that mindfulness is part of the mix, too, by which I mean attention to the sacredness of the present moment.

To acknowledge a radiant blue sky, to be aware of the absence of pain and the feeling I have of well-being is an affirmation, on the psychological level, of life as good, despite the horrors that surround us both in the outside world (turn on the news) and among those we know. It is at the same time a spiritually important recognition that, in spite of everything, the world is worth fighting for.

I think of Pascal's often-quoted comment about the way people rarely think of the present; they live instead in the past or worry about the future; as a result, he said, they never actually live but only hope to live. To be conscious of the ordinary realities around me, including the food I eat, the water I drink, the technology I use, is to be fully in the present and therefore to experience, if not joy then a satisfaction, free of worry or regret, that can be callled happiness.

To take nothing for granted is a key to remaining happy.

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