(The first of three interconnected posts on gratitude)
I am increasingly inclined to think that joy and gratitude are close companions, engaged in a mutual dance of enrichment.
When we experience that moment of joy, whether at the birth of a child or in witnessing a beautiful sunset, is it possible to feel joy without a sense of gratitude?
Perhaps gratitude can exist without joy, but I think ‘the practice of gratitude’ at the very least primes us to experience joy more readily.
So how do we define gratitude? The dictionary definition is simply ‘the quality of being thankful’. Robert Emmons, possibly the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, expands on this, describing it as an affirmation of goodness and a recognition that the sources of this goodness are outside ourselves (see his full definition at the University of California, Berkeley Greater Good website).
A hundred or so years B.C., Cicero argued that among virtues, gratitude is ‘the parent of all the others’, a virtue that begets other virtues. This is backed up by contemporary social scientists who contend that gratitude ‘stimulates moral behaviour’.
I experience gratitude as a state of being, one which provides the lens through which I choose to experience life. As with joy, I am conscious that gratitude is a practice that must be cultivated. I share the Buddhist perception that such a practice leads to the direct experience and awareness of the inter-connectedness of all of life and of the ongoing dynamic of giving and receiving. As well, it creates a context of abundance.
Gratitude also roots us more firmly in the moment. As the Chopra Centre puts it:
“gratitude brings our attention into the present, which is the only place where miracles can unfold. The deeper our appreciation, the more we see with the eyes of the soul and the more our life flows in harmony with the creative power of the universe.”
Whilst gathering my thoughts for this post, the phrase ‘a state of grace’ flickered through my consciousness. Given that the words ‘gratitude’ and ‘grace’ share a common root, this is unsurprising. But what does this mean to our understanding of gratitude? Vipassana (insight) meditation teacher Phillip Moffitt expresses this beautifully:
“This grace of conscious life, of having a mind that can know “this moment is like this,” is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows. The wonder, the mystery, is that you, like everyone else, are given this short, precious time of conscious embodiment in which you can directly know life for yourself.”