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David Steindl-Rast TED talk: Want to be happy? Be grateful (Transcript)

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

TRANSCRIPT: 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Well, think again. Every moment is a new gift, over and over again, and if you miss the opportunity of this moment, another moment is given to us, and another moment. We can avail ourselves of this opportunity, or we can miss it, and if we avail ourselves of the opportunity, it is the key to happiness. Behold the master key to our happiness in our own hands. Moment by moment, we can be grateful for this gift.

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Does that mean that we can be grateful for everything? Certainly not. We cannot be grateful for violence, for war, for oppression, for exploitation. On the personal level, we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend, for unfaithfulness, for bereavement. But I didn’t say we can be grateful for everything. I said we can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity, and even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult, we can rise to this occasion and respond to the opportunity that is given to us. It isn’t as bad as it might seem. Actually, when you look at it and experience it, you find that most of the time, what is given to us is opportunity to enjoy, and we only miss it because we are rushing through life and we are not stopping to see the opportunity.

But once in a while, something very difficult is given to us, and when this difficult thing occurs to us, it’s a challenge to rise to that opportunity, and we can rise to it by learning something which is sometimes painful. Learning patience, for instance. We have been told that the road to peace is not a sprint, but is more like a marathon. That takes patience. That’s difficult. It may be to stand up for your opinion, to stand up for your conviction. That’s an opportunity that is given to us. To learn, to suffer, to stand up, all these opportunities are given to us, but they are opportunities, and those who avail themselves of those opportunities are the ones that we admire. They make something out of life. And those who fail get another opportunity. We always get another opportunity. That’s the wonderful richness of life.

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By Pangambam S

I have been a Transcriber and Editor in the transcription industry for the past 15 years. Now I transcribe and edit at SingjuPost.com. If you have any questions or suggestions, please do let me know. And please do share this post if you liked it and help you in any way.

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