Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude is the Mother of Happiness

Several years ago, I had the good fortune to hear one of the most beautiful souls I know present a workshop on happiness.  Her words were powerful and resonated with me on multiple levels, it was as though I'd known the key ingredients for happiness and understood each one of them all along, yet I hadn't full connected the dots until the bigger picture unfolded through her words, stories, and, of course, a rockin' PPT presentation.  It profoundly changed my understanding of and approach to living a life of santosha (contentment).

On Thanksgiving day, while I know many people will be waxing poetic about things for which they are grateful, I prefer to share my views on happiness and, in my experience, what's allowed me to find peace, strength and joy, even in the toughest, most knee-buckling, gut-punching times, of which there have been many.

We've all been through painful experiences, sometimes we feel victimized by situations or people, and, sometimes we've been the cause of pain to others.  An inability to let go of these transgressions keeps us tied to a past that can never be changed.  As a result, forgiveness is an important piece of the happiness puzzle.  When we forgive someone else, it has very little to do with he or she who we are forgiving; rather, it is about us.  We forgive others in order to allow ourselves freedom from pain we've previously experienced. Further, we must find the wherewithal to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we've made.  We have all hurt others, and whether it was or was not intentional, what's done cannot be undone.  The best we can do is sincerely apologize, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward, stronger, better, wiser, as a result.

On the heels of forgiveness, comes acceptance.  Acceptance of our current reality… an ability to be and stay present, to appreciate what's right in front of us, because this very moment is the only one that's guaranteed.  Accepting those dear to us for exactly who they are, letting go of ideas and expectations about who they should be or could be, who we wish they would be.  We also must find self-acceptance.  While we certainly all have areas upon which we wish to personally improve over time, the ability to  accept who we are, where we are, as we are, how we are, right now, allows us to find greater contentment.

Love is high on the happiness scale.  Obviously, we love our family and friends, but the sort of love that keeps us happy extends far beyond that circle.  Our ability to love others is greatly diminished when we don't really love ourselves, and the reality is, many of us don't really love ourselves as we should.  We spend our whole lives learning to love imperfect people, because, well, people are imperfect.  We love the parents who give us the same advice on the same things over and over again, advice that we don't need or want and that may not even make sense… we love the siblings who make us crazy with their inability to return phone calls… we love our children even when they draw a family portrait on the wall with a Sharpie… we love the friends who are chronically late and forget to return what they borrow… we love our partners who forget things or who sometimes take us for granted.  And yet, we have difficulty fully loving ourselves… why?  Because we focus so much on our imperfections.  When we love ourselves, flaws and all, we honor our authentic selves, and, as a result, it's a whole lot easier to feel connection to others, to act compassionately, and to find fulfillment.

It is gratitude, though, that is considered to be the mother of happiness.  An ability to be truly grateful, not only for the big, obvious things, but also for the little things in life, goes a long way towards the creation of our own happiness.  Every experience we have is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Being thankful for the life lessons doled out to us, rather than being bitter about them or playing a victim as a result of them, gives us greater appreciation for this crazy, beautiful journey we're all on.

In her song, "Thank U", Alanis Morrisette wrote about being grateful for what she believed was a life changing trip to India.  Prior to that, she felt as though she was constantly looking outside of herself to find satisfaction and feel blissful.  While she clearly achieved great professional success, she was unable to find a sense of contentment or inner-peace.  Through self-examination, though, she found that everything she thought was important, simply wasn't.  Although it was scary, as it felt like everything in her world was dissolving, she made a decision to change her life.  As a result, she was overcome with a huge sense of compassion for herself, first and foremost, which naturally translated into her feeling love and compassion for everyone around her.  Further, she had a greater sense of gratitude than ever before, and, as such, she wrote a song to thank all of the things, both devastatingly messy and divinely brilliant, that allowed her to arrive in a state of self-love, compassion, contentment, gratitude.  It's no coincidence, of course, that she found her solace in a place where yoga is deeply rooted.

Many moons ago, my children and I started sharing "highs, lows and gratitude" at the dinner table each night.  It was not only my way of checking in with them, hearing first hand about their days, but also an opportunity to teach them that even on the worst days, there are things for which we can be grateful.  Over the years, I've noticed a shift… their highs are not nearly as high and their lows are not nearly as low… they seem to have found a natural and appropriate level of equanimity, balance.  If only they knew they were practicing the art of yoga right there at the dinner table!  Further, their gratitude lists have grown, not only in length, but in depth.  They express gratitude for multiple things each night, and while often those things are small in the grand scheme of things (the laughter of a friend, a purring cat, a guest at the table), they are a brilliant reminder that gratitude is personal and that if we just stop to appreciate what's right in front of us, it can, indeed, be abundant.

I am thankful that my life's curriculum has brought me to where I am today, and happy that I recognize the importance of forgiveness, acceptance, love and gratitude not only on this day of thanks giving, but also, and more importantly, every day of the year.

Gratitude Playlist

No comments:

Post a Comment

In order to ensure that we are cultivating metta, comments will be moderated prior to publishing.