The root of joy is gratefulness… For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful. – Brother David Steindl-Rast
What does that mean?
To me, it means most people have it backwards. We are generally grateful for something joyous, rather than taking joy in a situation that we are grateful for. Let’s look at some definitions to see if that helps out. From thefreedictionary.com, joy is “a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment”, grateful is “affording pleasure or comfort” and gratitude is “the state of being grateful”. So from this, I rephrase: we are not happy or content BECAUSE of having comfort, we have comfort BECAUSE we are happy or content.
To test this, ask yourself: self, can you be comfortable at the same time you are unhappy and discontented? To me the answer is that I cannot, but nuances in personal definitions might make it a fuzzier question for you to answer. Try to think of three or four examples of situations where the answer is yes and the same for the answer of no. Which is harder to get the answers for?
Why is gratitude important?
Gratitude for the good things in life, that’s pretty easy, isn’t it. For most people, anyway. There are some for whom no gift is good enough, no praise sufficient nor is any favor correct. For them, gratitude is for others. They’re outside the scope of this post. For the rest of us, being grateful requires being mindful (which few people are without taking the time to train themselves).
Being mindful means to notice things. I’m not talking Sherlock Holmes, but to notice the flowers, the sky, the sunset, the laughter from “over there” (wherever that might be). If you can notice these things, you can try to be grateful for them. Start with being grateful you’re alive to hear them. If that seems a bit severe, just consider that in many parts of the world today, there is very little laughter. Wars, famine, and floods can make laughter a scarce thing, so be grateful when you hear it.
Have you ever been grateful for something bad happening? When I was in second grade, I was caught unscrewing small Christmas light bulbs and smashing them on the sidewalk (mostly just to hear the ‘pop’ they made). While the punishment was far worse than the crime (to my 7 year-old self, at least), I am now grateful for it.
I have learned from the experience and now hold the property of others in much higher regard (having to raid the piggy bank and buy replacements with your own allowance really brought that into sharp focus). At the time, there was no gratitude, nor was there any joy either. But now, I am grateful each time I notice that I have made the correct choice without thinking, and with that comes some small amount of joy.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Start with being grateful for the obvious things. If you’re reading this, I think it’s a safe bet to say you’re alive, so be grateful for that. Do you have friends or family? If so, be grateful for them. If not, but you had them in the past, take a moment and remember them, and be grateful for the time you had together.
Look around – yes right now – and look for something nice. I spotted an old camera that no longer works. But I remembered some of the good times I had climbing around, trying to line up a great shot. Yes, it’s a bummer that it doesn’t work, but I cherish and am grateful for the good times that I had with it.
What did you find? What if you’re in the hospital ward of a prison? Well, look around for someone who may have helped heal you, or some technology that will speed your recovery. Can you be grateful for that, or are you too far gone? For those who put forth the effort, as you remembered, observed and were grateful, did a little joy creep in at the end? So, which came first, the joy or the gratefulness.
Will Brother David Steindl-Rast ever see this? I don’t know, but if he ever does, I’m sure that I would be grateful for his comments and thoughts.
From: Twitter, undocumented feed (my bad)
confirmed at: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/697855.Brother_David_Steindl_Rast
Photo by anathea