From Gratitude to Joy

“It is easy to be grateful for what you have in abundance and for what you like,” continued the lecturer.  “It is harder to be grateful for what is not yet perceived as having arrived or for what we may not find pleasant.”  I was watching a virtual presentation on the topic of the joy of gratitude.  That sentence remained forefront in my mind.   Most of us find it relatively easy to, if not feeling deep gratitude, at least say “thank you” for what we consider to be a benefit.  Giving thanks for what we perceive we do not actually possess, what has not yet manifested in material form, or for a difficult situation or event is more likely to be relegated to the category of complaint.

Most of us are seeking happiness, which happiness we believe will appear if we have a particular thing or if this, that, or the other situation occurs.  Sadly, the specific condition usually remains a will-o-the-wisp, or, once arrived, is swiftly followed by another condition to be met. The truth is that gratitude does not follow simply as a result of receiving what we think we want, or of our fleeting joy at getting our way; gratitude is actually the precursor of happiness.  Whether we are grateful for receiving what we want, or whether we are grateful for receiving what we do not find enjoyable or for what we are still anticipating, the happiness will not be there until the gratitude has arrived.  It is said that the happiest among us are the most grateful.

If we find ourselves not as facile as we wish at achieving a state of gratitude, despite frequent affirmations to that effect, perhaps it is because we are approaching the situation backwards.  Waiting on the manifestation of a particular condition for gratitude to appear brings us just that – more waiting, rather than the appearance of either the condition or the feeling of being grateful.  Perhaps if we were to develop the practice of being grateful for what we don’t seem to have or for what we don’t want or find appealing, we might find happiness even though our particular conditions do not appear.   Still more, our very embrace of gratitude for itself just might facilitate the manifestation of what we thought would never appear.

When the husband of one of my friends lost his job, it was to him as if his very identity had been snatched from him.  Fear and anger dominated his days – fear that he would not be able to provide for himself and family, fear that he would cease to exist as a valuable person, anger that he might need to be provided for by others.  Slowly, he began to open to the hidden benefits of being unemployed.  He began to appreciate the added time with his family, especially his children.  He began to enjoy being able to go for a walk in the wooded areas near his home.  He read more.  The disadvantages did not go away and were still difficult.  Yet, they were eased by his appreciation of what he had begun to enjoy.  The appreciation turned to gratitude, and he began to give thanks that his former job had disappeared, and for the benefits that loss had brought him.  Surprise – within a month of his embrace of gratitude for his difficult situation, he received a job offer that he had not expected.  

Even harder is the concept of being grateful for what has not been achieved or for what is not yet manifest.  The vision of what needs to be done, of what “has” to happen, or of what needs to come is massively powerful, and the nagging question remains of why the vision has been given if the opportunity has not accompanied it.  Inspirational speakers on gratitude, such as, for example, the late Wayne Dyer, explain how the position of believing that one already has that which one wishes, envisioning it and being grateful for it, brings that very vision into manifestation – if not exactly, then very closely.  The wisdom of the gratitude coming first is clear; when we complain about what we do not have we are actually in the process of affirming that lack.  Our words have power.  If we can see, hear, and feel that which we wish, and be grateful for it, we are emitting a positive creative energy, which can draw to us that which we wish.  (How quickly is not promised; patience is a virtue, too.)  At the very least, we can focus more attention on being grateful for what we have in front of us, instead of complaining about what is not before us.

Gratitude is a powerful change agent.  There is an even better reason, though, for practicing the feeling of gratitude.  Gratitude presupposes a feeling of satisfaction.  When one feels satisfied, there is no perception of lack.  One is satisfied with the conditions that are and with the physical good one has.  That does not mean that there are not goals for later, or that the present moment is static and that what is present in the moment is all there will ever be.  It simply means that satisfaction is now, and that with satisfaction comes content or joy and an openness or non-resistance to what is.   Gratitude practiced simply for itself, without the expectation that a desired change will indeed follow, is the underpinning of being happy.  It is a connection to the creative essence from which we all emerge and to which we all return.  It returns us to what we are, unsullied by the stories and desires we weave around us.  Gratitude is a form of love.

During these times when we are surrounded by so much that we feel we do not want, by difficulties that sometimes seem too much to bear, by fears of loss, lack and deprivation, let us find the things for which we can be grateful.   Let us practice gratitude for those, and through practice, gratitude for what is and for life in general.    Let us practice becoming genuinely happy.  

Peace, Diane

Gratitude and Compassion

I grew up believing in the importance of giving, expressed both as putting forth energy to be productive and as charity by donation of time and resources to others in need.  I was taught that giving is greater than receiving, to always go the extra mile (being productive so that others would recognize my value), to exert effort to achieve and to maintain, and that giving is a position of power.  Sharing with siblings and others was also a given – it was “wrong” to withhold.  The best people were always givers.

In contrast, there was a certain shadow around the act of receiving.  We were made aware that, quite possibly when we received something, someone else had gone without.  There was guilt attached.  We were indebted to the giver and must always remember the person who had been kind enough to give something to us.  Often, that meant giving in to or obeying the giver.  Receiving implied that we were lacking or needy.  There was shame attached.  To accept charity was considered shameful. 

It was okay to “get” – especially if one was a boy.  “Getting” was a means to have what one needed or wanted by competing with others and putting out effort to achieve.  It was a way for goods and energy and esteem to come in other than by receiving without putting out the usually competitive effort.  It was a way of providing for oneself (and one’s family) without admitting any need for the help of others.  One earned what one had; therefore, it was not a gift.  We were to cultivate the qualities of self-reliance, rather than exhibit any kind of need, including politely refusing assistance when we could Although competition to “win” was encouraged, taking something away (as in snatching or stealing or deceiving) from someone else was not.   We should earn everything we got.

The result was an imbalance; it is an imbalance many of us share.  Our culture is more individualistic; it emphasizes self-reliance, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.  The concept of cooperation is there, but the society itself is not particularly cooperative.  Most of us are familiar with giving, either as a duty or a self-esteem enhancing act, but do not know what it is to simply receive.  We are either one-sided, or we practice neither giving nor receiving very well.  

Here is a secret; giving and receiving are the heads and tails of the same coin.  One cannot give unless one has something one has first received to be given; the act of true giving opens one to receiving.  It is circular.  

Saints and sages, masters and mystics have for as long as people can remember exalted the qualities of gratitude and compassion.  The spiritually adept of all religions have practiced them, understanding that the qualities of gratitude and compassion are intimately connected.  They are on the same continuum.  Compassion is giving love in action; gratitude is opening oneself with love to receive.  It is not possible to practice compassion for long without also receiving, being filled with not only the motivating love to give, but also with the resources to do the giving.  Receiving money, one can give money; receiving skills, one can use those talents to help others; receiving knowledge or understanding, one can share those with others.   It is a circle, a continuous exchange within life.  We give, and we are given to.

When we look upon receiving as shameful, we block the flow of life through us.  I am deliberately using the term “receiving” as opposed to demanding, taking, feeling entitled to, or amassing.   Receiving is humble and relaxed, requiring no struggle to “get”.  It is trusting that the Universe, God, the One will provide what is needed, and then being open to perceive that we are being given to.  The trust and the perception are the basis of gratitude, the feeling of joy and well-being at being provided for.   We cannot be grateful if we do not perceive that we are being given to, or if we do not trust in that provision.

Mother Teresa is more known by what she gave to others.  Less is known about her trust and her acknowledgement that she was indeed provided for.  Somehow, what she needed would always come to her so that she could, in turn, give to others.  The circle was intact.

Giving, too, is a humble action.  Giving in order to increase one’s power or the esteem in which one is held or to increase our own inflow is not true giving, no matter the amount that may be put out.  Giving to charity intentionally in such a way that the gift is actually an investment which comes back in the form of increasing profits for companies in which one is invested is not really giving.  It is business.  True giving regards the gift as simply belonging to the receiver; it is a natural reaction to feeling compassion or a concern with justice.  It does not take a great deal of effort to do.

As a culture, we seem to lack the humility and the communal consciousness which allow us to receive, and to perceive those blessings with gratitude.  This weakness results in difficulty with true giving, skewing many of our gifts to be those which increase our power, are meant to increase our esteem in the eyes of others, or to return profit to us.  Lack of the ability to feel gratitude also limits our compassion.

Change starts in the present moment.  Now is the time to turn our attention to cultivating the ability to feel and express gratitude, while simultaneously keeping our eyes upon the quality of our compassion.  The world needs both if it and we, too, are to grow.  Our individual practice and mastery of gratitude and compassion are essential. They are a component of the growing world to come.

Peace, Diane