Amidst the Thanksgiving messages and photographs of food, a beautiful TED Talk by Benedictine monk and interfaith scholar, David Steindl-Rast made its way into my social media feed this evening. His talk explores how each of us has one thing in common: The prospect of happiness (and the constant hunt for it). However, as Rast suggests in his fifteen minute conversation from two years ago, happiness is born from gratitude.
“It’s not happiness that makes us grateful; it’s gratefulness that makes us happy,” Rast says.
On this particular day, Rast’s thoughts echo more loudly as he goes on to explain how each moment in our life is a gift, and with it comes an abundance of opportunities. Moreover, with every moment containing a new gift, if it is overlooked or missed, it is once again given to you but in different ways. As Rast says, the idea is that we take the opportunity and go forward with it.
The thing is though, a lot of us don’t practice gratitude. Therefore a lot of us are left unhappy and most definitely, unfulfilled. And when I mean, we don’t practice such an ideal, it’s because we aren’t hardwired to be grateful. We’ve been hardwired to be optimistic, have faith and overcome adversity. But in reality, a lot of us are not grateful for what we have right in front of us because we’ve never really learned what being grateful means to us at the core of it. While we are taught at a young age to say “thank you,” the act of receiving becomes so habitual over the years that we often disregard its real meaning and assume it more of a linguistic or behavioral reflex.
While exploring how gratefulness works, Rast shares in order to find happiness, you need to find something of real value to you. Something that just so happens to be a true gift of life. It’s not suppose to be something given to you and anything you’ve ever worked for. Instead, this type of gift has to be something natural and freely given through serendipity and from the sheer journey along life. And when this gift brings meaning to you, only then does gratefulness rise in the heart, followed by pure happiness.
Conversely, Rast acknowledges that there are things in life that we can not be grateful for, things like violence, the loss of a friend, bereavement and even unfaithfulness.
Of course, with all that I have experienced in the past month, my mind wondered about gratitude in relationships built on love and trust because truth of the matter is, we are not a grateful race. In many ways, a lack of gratitude in relationships stems to past behavior and a constant need for what we wish we had. We are each a product of our environment and education, and if we cannot appreciate what is right in front of us, it clearly poses the question, what do you want to achieve most in your life?
So, with Rast’s inspiring talk, it makes you wonder: How do you define gratitude in a relationship? The way I see it is gratitude not only includes an appreciation for what your partner does, but who they are as a person that complements the needs of your soul and heart.
One of my best friends has struggled with understanding gratitude in his own life for years. At the core of him, no matter how beautiful he is and how sweet he can be, I always sensed and knew of his overshadowing unhappiness. It was a shame that of all the people in his life, no matter how far I was at the time, I recognized it more so than his harridan. Since we first met six years ago, my best friend had always imagined being someone else much to my disapproval. After all, he was and is a warm and loving soul, with a lovable personality. Even when we were romantically inclined towards each other for six months before his sharing a crushing truth with me, he always imagined having another life. He always imagined making other choices.
That never stopped though. Over the years, it got worse and I noticed it. Whether he complained about his waking life, or constantly envied his friends with the perfect life they had, it was only getting worse. In many ways, his insecurities and complaints about himself and life became more so of comparisons. Even going so far to compare me of all people to someone whom I envied in his realm. In that moment though I realized, with all the love in me, I couldn’t fix him. No one could fix him.
We lose sight of happiness the moment we let go of gratitude and begin to compare ourselves. Comparison is corrosive and has the ability to eat at contentment, confidence and a life that is ever present. It is a poison that kills the love we have for ourselves and those around us. Whether it be living the quintessential life with 2.1 kids or loving an ideal person, the moment that thought of comparison roots itself into your foundations, that is the moment of realization in knowing the life you are leading is not true to you.
Comparison is the true thief of joy, and from its seed-like inception grasping digging roots at the core of your soul, gratitude suddenly becomes suppressed as happiness is nonexistent and nothing more than a word you seek to understand.
Gratitude is an ever important element to our world and to our own self-esteem. Not only should we be grateful towards others and the life around us, but we need to be grateful for ourselves. Gratitude relishes good experiences and brings out positive esteem. When we are grateful, we are not fearful. And when we are grateful for ourselves and who were are at the core, we act as a sense of just being “enough.” And the beauty of gratitude is, not only can it put situations into perspective, but when we see the good as well as the bad, it becomes more difficult to complain and stay stuck.
Of course, showcasing true gratitude requires vulnerability and that opens up your heart to enjoy the differences between people, understand them and be really respectful towards them. If we acknowledge vulnerability through gratitude in any meaningful way, that means we have to let others in. Letting others in is hard though, because it reveals a “need,” and no one wants to feel exposed. Baring your soul to another is hard enough knowing there is a great possibility for pain. But it is essential to be vulnerable because without it, we will never be truly happy because gratitude will never make its way through.
As we near the Christmas holiday, understand that gratitude, in all its multitudes, reorients us towards what is good and pure, while boiling down to living life as if everything were a true blessing and miracle. Being thankful and counting your blessings shifts focus from what your life lacks, to what you already have an abundance of. The fact that you can be thankful and truly mean it with the way the world has been, is in itself a small miracle. The only thing to keep in mind, is to express yourself with an open heart and never expect anything back. Being vulnerable pushes forth true gratitude, which engenders generosity and openness in life, love and relationships.
Gratitude is truly a practice that reminds you of your life and everything and everyone in it. As we head into a new month, I’m practicing more gratitude and showing my thankfulness to my loving friends and amazing family each day through little things, and of course, it’s the little things that matter most because they shape and influence every part of our lives to make all the difference. As a society, we need to practice gratitude daily because we tend to take for granted what we presently have, leaving us feeling empty and unhappy. The world we live in is a constant struggle where we continuously want more and make comparisons for a better life that’s right around the corner window. But a lot of that has to deal with personal discontent and that only means something has to change within us—no one can change you.
By practicing gratitude, we will be happier with our lives, ourselves, and our relationships and achieve what we want more. Everything we would have asked for and been content with from the start, would help us reach personal fulfillment. And who doesn’t want to reach their full potential?
David Steindl-Rast’s TED talk, “Want to be happy? Be grateful” can be seen below.