One of the most common phrases that most people use is “Thank you.” But does saying these words repeatedly make you a grateful person? Sadly, this phrase has become an automatic footnote in routine conversations and digital messages that the essence of being truly grateful has lost its meaning. Most times, you send out a quick “thx!” not because you are really thankful or appreciative of an action but because it is what is expected of you. At the same time, when you receive a thank you message, how often do you really appreciate the gesture?
When you were a young kid, your parents or your teachers must have taught you to say thank you whenever someone did you a favor. However, what Buddhism teaches about gratitude is beyond that:
Gratitude should be cultivated as a habit not dependent on conditions.
This means that you should be grateful not just because you got what you want or you had good fortune, rather, you should be mindful and aware of every little thing happening in your life and practice gratitude accordingly.
Gautama Buddha himself was a grateful Buddha. It has been written that following his enlightenment, Buddha stood without moving his eyes as he meditated under the Bodhi tree as a sign of gratitude and thanks to the tree that had sheltered him during his struggles.
In Buddha’s teachings, gratitude plays an important role especially when talking about a person’s integrity. According to the Kataññu Suttas: Gratitude , Buddha said:
“”A person of integrity is grateful & thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity."
The dictionary definition of integrity is having a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values. If you want to be considered as a person with sound moral character, Buddha then teaches that it is essential to practice gratefulness.
According to American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfeld, Buddhist monks start their days with a chant of gratitude for their life’s blessings.
When you wake up, before doing anything else, practice gratitude meditation. This is a simple act of taking a few minutes of counting your blessings and being thankful for another new day ahead. It may sound cliché, but recognizing the basic things such as having fresh air to breathe, a shelter above your head and a healthy body to get you through the day can actually provide you a better perspective and kick start your good mood.
Showing gratitude to the people who are important to you may be something you know you need to do more often, but this is usually something you take for granted. According to the Kataññu Suttas: Gratitude, Buddha teaches that if there are two people who are not easy to repay, then those are your mother and your father.
"I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father…Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduced them to this world. "
When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with your parents or showed your gratitude to them? Saying the words “Thank you” is a great start but doing thoughtful actions they would appreciate would be much better. The gestures do not need to be grand or expensive. Simple actions that can make them feel that you’re thankful like spending more time with them, calling them more often or bringing them their favorite meal would go a long way.
How many times have you found yourself rushing from one task to the next, jam-packing your schedule with one activity after another in a mindless pursuit of your goals? There is nothing wrong with trying to achieve a lot of things, in fact Buddha himself said in the Bhaddekaratta Sutta:
“Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.”
However, being passionate with what you do today is different from carelessly going through the motions that you forget to value what is in front of your eyes. When you constantly work towards the future, don’t forget to appreciate the present and be thankful for what you have reached so far. This practice of being aware of your emotions, thoughts, and experiences at a given moment is called mindfulness. Right mindfulness is one of the Eightfold Path which according to Buddha is the way to liberate one’s self from miserable states.
The idiom “Stop and smell the roses” is an apt reference that can help you understand mindfulness better. This involves a clear awareness of your experiences which can help you acknowledge the little things you should be thankful for.
When you try to cling on to something that is not meant to be, that can hinder your path to happiness. It says in the Buddhist scriptures Na Tumhaka Sutta:
“Whatever is not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit.”
According to Buddhism, letting go of attachments is a must to experience happiness. In life, you are attached to a lot of things: people, material things, your work, your ideas, opinions, goals, and desires. These attachments can lead to frustrations because you are continually clinging to them, afraid of loss.
Letting go means letting things be and realizing that nothing is permanent. This does not equate to not caring about anyone or anything, instead, you must learn to accept things for what they are.
One good example is distressing about a past mistake or a relationship which can usually cause serious feelings of grief. Instead of wallowing on past actions that you cannot change, let go and be thankful that you’ve survived that unfortunate incident. Be thankful for the lessons you’ve learned from that period in your life and find ways on how you can make the present a better one.
One of your friends posted about his international scholarship grant while another posted about his recent trip to Paris. In seeing those photos, you suddenly felt this surge of jealousy and you started to get frustrated about your own life.
The Enlightened Buddha said:
‘Destroy those envying roots and enjoy lasting peace.’
When you entertain your feelings of envy and start focusing on other people’s successes, you are more likely to resent your own life and forget about the valuable things you actually have which you should be thankful for.
The saying that “The grass is always greener on the other side” is very much true because while you are upsetting yourself about not having someone’s life, there is also probably another person envying your life.
Instead of feeling envy, be happy for the success of others and celebrate them. Use them as an inspiration instead of blaming yourself why you do not possess the same experiences. But the most important thing is to recognize your own blessings and never forget to be thankful for them.
Jel is a creative ninja who produces multimedia content for a living. After 15 years of working for international TV networks, ad agencies, and film companies, she now defines career happiness as being able to write wherever it strikes her fancy - on the beach, in a local café or just at home while drinking a glass of Merlot and munching on freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.