How can we begin to live a life of gratitude? Often, people try to force gratitude on themselves. They must count their blessings. They must not complain. They must practice gratitude. Unfortunately, forcing feelings on ourselves seldom works. What should we do?
It’s best, to begin with the feeling of incompleteness, complaints, and regrets. We cannot brush these feelings under the carpet. We must face them. We must gently and loving accept these difficult feelings in ourselves. When we can honor difficult feelings in ourselves, we can truly honor the beautiful things in life. Gratitude cannot be practiced in isolation. That is to say, it cannot be practiced only on the good things in our life. We must learn to first accept, and then see the reasons for difficult things in our life. As Viktor Frankl in his beautiful book Man’s search for meaning said, we must find meaning in our suffering. Difficult situations turbocharge our growth. Acceptance of difficult emotions and situations is first. Acceptance leads to a recognition that these feelings are there in us in the first place. Then putting these difficult emotions in context, helps us understand the message in this difficult situation. Understanding leads one to be grateful for these tough situations. If we can be grateful for our difficult emotions, then acceptance and gratitude become a natural way of life toward all emotions. This is true gratitude, which cannot be taken away.
This brings us to the question of honor. In today’s so-called ‘modern culture’ the word honor takes on an egoic connotation. We often say ‘my honor’, which is another way of saying ‘my pride’. This is an example of how a beautiful thing like honor can be usurped by the ego. The other meaning of honor is reverence. That is to rever something. Our modern society has dissatisfaction built into itself. In economics, we need endless growth, which is an antipole of satisfaction, contentment, and honoring what we have. We have dismantled religion in the name of science and with that, we have eliminated this attitude of revering this wondrous, infinite, diverse universe. We fail to accept that there are things beyond the comprehension of our finite, limited minds. Then, we have succumbed to advertisement and marketing which tells us constantly why we need the new product in order to feel good about ourselves. The culture of consumerism leaves us feeling empty, wanting ever more things. We have all systematically been taught to feel dissatisfied. How can this ever lead to contentment and a sense of reverence?
We don’t need religion to bring reverence back into our lives. Nor do we need to believe in the existence of an all-powerful God. All we need is to see the vastness of this creation, the beautiful, ever-evident thing that we are alive and conscious. We can experience life! And experience is so diverse and ever-changing every moment. This deepens the sense of mystery and sparks curiosity in ourselves. Living with this mystery, we naturally come to rever ‘life’. And because the process of discovery is so beautiful, the consumer culture pales in comparison to something so tangible, so imminent, so beautiful. This is why true philosophers and scientists tend to naturally lead very simple lives. They do not need to become minimalists. Their work naturally brings them to a sense of wonder, a sense of deep curiosity about life. This wonderment naturally leads one towards a feeling of reverence.
Therefore, let us start by accepting our difficult emotions. See them as a channel for our growth. This transmutes itself to an attitude of gratitude for what is, irrespective of whether it is good or bad. With this attitude, we become curious about our own emotions, and our unique journey. This curiosity leads to a feeling of amazement towards life – both the good and the bad. We realize how little we know. And how little we can internalize. This is the beginning of wisdom born in curiosity and reverence.