11. Gratitude: To acknowledge and repay the kindness of others 

What would you do?

Jill Bolte Taylor is an American neuroanatomist who at the age of 37 experienced a massive stroke, which left her unable to walk, talk, read, write, or recall anything about her life. It took her eight years to recover. Many people might have labeled this a disaster, but instead she expresses a profound sense of gratitude for what she learned from the experience. Her 2006 book My Stroke of Insight, A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey (now published in 30 languages) and her subsequent TED talk – the first one to go viral on the Internet – have touched millions of people. "You are responsible for the energy that you bring," she says. www.drjilltaylor.com

The benefits of gratitude

Gratitude has the potential to:

  • strengthen our awareness of our interdependence with people, animals and the environment
  • function as an antidote to isolation and loneliness, hurt and resentment
  • bring the transformative practice of appreciation and warm-heartedness into our daily life

A 16 Guidelines view on gratitude

Gratitude celebrates our connections with other beings and our capacity to offer mutual support. It is a form of openness and generosity that strengthens relationships and heals tension, resentment and anger. Gratitude calls us to strip away unnecessary complexities, and to be simple and natural with each other. It brings peace and harmony.

To receive gratitude from others is to strengthen our confidence that we have a positive role to play in the world. It makes us feel recognized, encouraged and inspired. When we are able to offer gratitude sincerely to someone else, notice how it brings a pleasant taste in the mouth, a warm feeling in the heart and a surge of energy. Appreciation feels good.

Gratitude is grounded in the wisdom which accepts that we are neither independent nor self-sufficient, but part of an extraordinary continuum of events and beings on this planet. It encourages us to welcome reality, rather than to fight it – both what seems good, and what seems bad. Learning to appreciate every single thing that happens as a potential source of insight and growth is one of the key ingredients for a happy life.

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing gratitude

Did you know?

Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. An experiment at University of Pennsylvania, found that participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores when they wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. 

Sources:

Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough: Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness – Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude, University of Miami, 2003.

Seligman MEP, et al. Empirical Validation of Interventions, American Psychologist,Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21, 2005.

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RAM DASS: A ROLE MODEL FOR GRATITUDE

If you think you’re so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents!” says the American teacher Ram Dass, skillfully pinpointing an aspect of gratitude that is often particularly challenging for people in the twenty-first century. In his book: Still Here, Embracing Ageing, Changing and Dying, Ram Dass shares the challenges and transformations that resulted from moving home to care for his own father just before his death. 

Ram Dass was a free-thinker and rebel who spent the Sixties as a professor of psychology at Harvard and a leader of the psychedelic movement, and then went to India where he met his teacher NeemKaroli Baba and embraced the teachings of Hinduism. He came to believe passionately in the ‘heart to heart resuscitation of society’ in which personal and social transformation starts with everyday attitudes such as gratitude and kindness to others. Ram Dass began his life seeking freedom through independence, but is ending it with the realization that this is a contradiction, and that true freedom can only be achieved through acknowledging our dependence on others.

For more on Ram Dass, see:

  1. www.ramdass.org,which includes live streaming from Ram Dass’scentre on Maui, Hawaii, multimedia reference materials and an interactive online community
  2. Be Here Now (1970) and many other books by Ram Dass
  3. Fierce Grace, directed by Mickey Lemle, 2002, Regional 1 DVD/Video relieased by Zeitgeist Films in 2003 

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A short reflection on gratitude from 16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the experience of coming to rest. 

Start by being grateful for all the good things that you experience in your life. Begin with physical things such as your home or possessions or surroundings. Recall that many people don’t have these things, and that you may not always have them. Rejoice in your good fortune. 

Take the time to appreciate some less tangible things, such as your relationships, health, freedom and knowledge. Experience a sense of thankfulness and appreciation for each of the good things in your life.

Turn your mind to the many people who have been kind to you in the past. Recall the relatives and friends who were supportive or kind to you when you were young. Remember the teachers who showed you how to read and write, or who inspired you to learn. Focus on as many specific incidents of kindness as you can. 

Spend some time imagining the kindnesses received from your parents. Begin in the womb, where your mother held you and fed you in her body. Think of how she nursed you as a baby, how she got up in the middle of the night to feed and comfort you. How she wiped you clean and made sure you were clothed. Silently express your gratitude to her. 

Recall how, as a small child, you were completely dependent on the kindness of an adult. You were fed, washed and put to bed. You were taught to walk and taken to school. To whatever extent you can, expand these feelings of gratitude and affection.  

See how all the love and kindness you have received in your life depended on similar love and kindness in previous generations. Imagine this kindness reaching back over millennia. Can you develop a wish to repay and pass on this vast kindness? 

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”

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Quotes on gratitude

  • When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.  - Chinese Proverb
  • There is always, always, always, something to be thankful for – Source Unknown
  • Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. – William Arthur Ward
  • In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. – Brother David Steindl-Rast
  • Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone else planted a tree a long time ago. – Warren Buffet
  • Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings – William Arthur Ward
  • At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. – Albert Schweitzer
  • The essence of all great art, of all beautiful art, is gratitude – Friedrich Nietszche
  • Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty. – Doris Day

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