It was Thanksgiving Day in the USA last week. Though some families may have endured stressful political discussions, the general theme of gratitude has held center stage. It’s an important moment for all of us to pause and count our blessings, to bring our attention to the many things that are going right and the many gifts we receive as a matter of course.
From Andrew Olendzki:
The Pali words for gratitude and thankfulness are kataññutā and kataveditā, which mean “the quality (-tā) of knowing (-ññu; -vedi) what has been done (kata-).”
The American holiday of Thanksgiving is said to be rooted in the early Pilgrims “knowing what had been done” for them, both by their God who had provided a successful harvest, and by their native American neighbors who did so much to help them survive their first year in Plymouth.
Gratitude is a wholesome state of mind, and the Buddha encouraged its cultivation:
“We will be grateful and thankful,
and will not overlook even
the smallest favor done to us.”
-Such is how one is to practice.
Saṃyutta Nikāya 21.12
Gratitude practice has become common in some circles. This involves keeping a gratitude diary and making note each day of at least one thing for which one is grateful. It could be the courtesy shown by most drivers on the road, the inspiration of a teacher (recent or long ago), a phone call or email from a friend, the fact of having a friend at all, the smile of a stranger, the song of a bird. This tends to act as a corrective to our tendency to see most vividly what is wrong or disordered.
One discourteous or dangerous driver obscures our vision of all the kind and responsible ones. A brusque word from an acquaintance can start a cascade of complaints that drowns out all the nice things that people say to us and do for us. If we regularly turn our attention to how many things go smoothly for us, we’ll still notice the disruptions in that flow, but we won’t make them the dominant events.
Being thankful for the gifts or blessings that we regularly receive can make our hearts more peaceful. It can make our own generosity flow more freely. There is no down side to practicing gratitude.
What follows is wisdom from a variety of sources on the subject of gratitude:
“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
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero