The one thing all humans have in common is that each of us wants to be happy, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.
Listen to the MP Audio here: David Steindl-Rast_ Want to be happy_ Be grateful
There is something you know about me, something very personal, and there is something I know about every one of you and that’s very central to your concerns. There is something that we know about everyone we meet anywhere in the world, on the street, that is the very mainspring of whatever they do and whatever they put up with, and that is that all of us want to be happy. In this, we are all together. How we imagine our happiness, that differs from one another, but it’s already a lot that we have all in common, that we want to be happy.
Now my topic is gratefulness. How is the connection between happiness and gratefulness? Many people would say, well, that’s very easy. When you are happy, you are grateful. But think again. Is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything that it would take to be happy, and they are not happy, because they want something else or they want more of the same. And we all know people who have lots of misfortune, misfortune that we ourselves would not want to have, and they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness.
You are surprised. Why? Because they are grateful. So it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy. If you think it’s happiness that makes you grateful, think again. It’s gratefulness that makes you happy.
Now, we can ask, what really do we mean by gratefulness? And how does it work? I appeal to your own experience. We all know from experience how it goes. We experience something that’s valuable to us. Something is given to us that’s valuable to us. And it’s really given. These two things have to come together. It has to be something valuable, and it’s a real gift. You haven’t bought it. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t traded it in. You haven’t worked for it. It’s just given to you.
And when these two things come together, something that’s really valuable to me and I realize it’s freely given, then gratefulness spontaneously rises in my heart, happiness spontaneously rises in my heart. That’s how gratefulness happens.
Now the key to all this is that we cannot only experience this once in a while. We cannot only have grateful experiences. We can be people who live gratefully. Grateful living, that is the thing. And how can we live gratefully? By experiencing, by becoming aware that every moment is a given moment, as we say. It’s a gift. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t brought it about in any way. You have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you, and yet, that’s the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us, this moment, with all the opportunity that it contains. If we didn’t have this present moment, we wouldn’t have any opportunity to do anything or experience anything, and this moment is a gift. It’s a given moment, as we say.
Now, we say the gift within this gift is really the opportunity. What you are really grateful for is the opportunity, not the thing that is given to you, because if that thing were somewhere else and you didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it, to do something with it, you wouldn’t be grateful for it. Opportunity is the gift within every gift, and we have this saying, opportunity knocks only once.