Further Thoughts on Gratitude

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Chaffey

Lately I've been thinking about this post. over at one of my favourite blogs. Then today I read thispost on my blogger friend Audrey's site and I'm compelled to comment on gratitude.

In Raising My Boy Chick, the idea is raised that comparative gratitude "I'm grateful for having shoes because there are people who have no feet" is gloating. I had not given much thought to this and of course often did the comparative gratitude. My gratitude manifests this way "I happily do housework because I'm grateful I have a home" and of course the natural thought follows that many others don't have homes and therefore I should be grateful. And yes, of course I should. But there is, I agree, some amount of gloating here. I don't consciously think "I'm better therefore I should be grateful" but it's not entirely stand alone gratitude either. I have a great sense of compassion for those who live with much less than I have but that's kind of snobbish isn't it? For many people, who have so much less than I have, somehow still manage to live in gratitude and peace. After all having a nice home doesn't guarantee happiness and millions of people the world over live happy lives with next to nothing but the basic necessities of lives.

Then I read that the Buddha said "Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful" which of course is indeed a comparative gratitude although it doesn't refer to "things" it refers more to "how we are". And it refers to how we could be compared to how we are. It doesn't mention others.

Cicero echos the words of Arwyn with "Are we to only be able to appreciate what we have because we've found someone who has less" referring to the comparative gratitude I spoke of above.

So I then continued my search for an answer to my question "What is gratitude?".

When I read Audrey's post on Stage 3, Who me? I saw the little boy in the post, the poor little boy, so grateful for the shoes from the dump with broken soles, true, stand alone gratitude that I could see that honest gratitude that sprung not from any source beyond the depth of a little boys appreciation for a gift. True, honest gratitude.

Then it dawned on me, maybe we aren't to be grateful for what we have so much anyway. It does good to have appreciation for your blessings but true appreciation comes from having the blessings that are non-material. Blessings of the spirit. Blessings of the body and of the mind. Buddha does a comparative gratitude but he isn't talking about being grateful for what we have but rather our well-being. I cannot help but be grateful for good health. I feel it's a great gift to have wellness. It would be completely against my nature not to be grateful for that. I should be in a feeling of gratitude for that at all times. And indeed I strive to be.

I saw a show a while back, a Canadian production called Bookie's Crush. The show is set during the depression. One of Bookie's friends is a rich girl. Bookie asks her why she wants to hang around with them, the "poor kids" and the rich girl replies "because my dad says we may lose everything and you are so happy even though your poor and I want to know how to be happy if we become poor".

Our culture is so caught up in the idea that in order to be happy we have to be grateful for what we have. Indeed I think that in order to be happy we have to be grateful for who we are. That we need to value ourselves enough outside of our belongings to know we deserve happiness no matter what.

The little boy who is so excited for the shoes, so grateful, so innocently gleeful, knowing he is deserving of the riches he's received, that's the kind of stand alone gratitude we should be exhibiting. He is not comparing the shoes to other people's shoes. He's not saying "well I should be grateful because at least I have shoes". He's in complete and utter gratitude for having such a gift. He's in absolute humble rapture for who he is, a boy deserving of such a gift.

It's a subtle difference but it's there. While having compassion for those who have difficult time is perfect and sensitive. It has absolutely nothing to do with having gratitude.

Albert Scweitzer said this "To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude."

Jesus, in his very usual way, gives an example of gratefulness through a parable. Jesus heals ten people, but only one gives utter and complete surrendering gratitude to him. Jesus asks "where are the others?" but they've gone off to tell of the healing. Jesus then goes on to say "your faith has healed you". But then if the one who returned had pure faith then why were all of them healed. My interpretation of this is that the grateful one, the purely, truly grateful one, was healed spiritually as well as physically. By throwing himself at his healers feet in complete humility and gratitude his healing was twofold. His eyes were opened physically as and spiritually. And he was truly grateful.

So something as simple as gratitude has become something more to think about. To practice complete, stand alone, surrendering gratitude for ourselves, our spirits requires the ability to be grateful for everything we are every moment with humility and surrender.

To express gratitude I believe we need to nourish its expression with regular sessions of pure, simple, uncomplicated gratitude. I believe it to be essentual to growth and healing. I have always attempted to do so but now I go forward with a new understanding on how to completely and humbly be grateful.
And to start I would like to express such gratitude for the lesson and to my teachers mentioned above. Thank you.

I am deeply grateful
and I am truly free
to have this perfect moment
to sit and simply be.


sunnymama said…
What a lovely post and so full of wisdom! I really enjoyed the posts you linked to as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on gratitude :)
david mcmahon said…
Beautiful work.

(And I see you are a friend of Terry Fletcher's. Terry was and still is my oracle.)
Thank you Sunnymama and David. (and David, Terry has been a miracle worker on my other blog, so generous with his time and help..he's wonderful)
Anonymous said…
Breeze, thank you so much for the shout-out. And thank you even more for seeing Ben as he truly was/is...a gentle soul grateful for being. You know, it's funny. I was reflecting early this evening about how much we, as adults, learn from the innocence of children. We presume to be their teachers and guides but you know, I often learn more from children than I do from adults. And for that I am grateful.

For having met you, I am also grateful. You truly are wise and loving!
I had never considered the concept of comparative gratitude prior to this and it's intriguing. It's a remarkable post you've written.
Arwyn said…
I interpret the Bhudda's quote a little differently, not as a comparative gratitude, but as a practice in realizing that there is always something to be grateful for, if we but look hard enough (even if the best we can say is "I ain't dead yet!"). A comparative-gratitude (what I termed gloating, though more because it was alliterative than because it is the best word) way of saying a similar thing would be "there's always someone worse off, even if only the dead". But that isn't what the Bhudda says there. He makes no reference to other people at all, which I think is half of what makes the difference. (If I ever figure out how to phrase the other half, I'll let you know!)
Sara Diana said…
Your blog always lifts me.

I have just blogged Thankful Thursday and funnily enough my thankfulness was for my faculties, for my husband, my friends
Arwyn..I agree..that's what I didnt' say in my post lol. When I first read your post I remembered Buddha's and was confused but then I did some more exploration and realised what he was saying is exactly what you said..there is always something to be grateful for...comparative but in a different way.

Thanks for you input. Your post that I link to in your blog was very eye-opening for me.

Unknown said…
"grateful am I for the eyes to see..the ears to hear..the hands to hold..the nose to taste...and the voice to say...from dream to dressing...from wake to walk...from thought to talk...from sound to song...from fragrance to friend........I thank you spirit and man..."
ellen abbott said…
Very thought provoking. Once a week, after yoga, I address the great spirit and give thanks my blessings...for the beauty of the world and my family and friends.

I guess I do a little comparative gratitude. I see others who have more than I but I am not envious, I see others who have less than I so I do not complain.