Approaches to the Principle of Gratitude

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For some of us, gratitude flows through our veins effortlessly. We have trained ourselves to thank the universe or god or whoever for whatever we have in the present. Whereas, for the rest of us, which is a majority of the population, we have to push ourselves to feel grateful for what we have, for it does not come naturally to us. 

When we do push ourselves to feel grateful, we unknowingly use different strategies. I have identified three such approaches of having gratitude that I believe people employ at times when they are low. These are different ways, reasons or approaches of reminding yourself why it is important to be thankful for what you have.

  1. Gandhian Talisman– “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him/ her. Will he/she gain anything by it? Will it restore him [/her] to a control over his [/her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away” (Gandhi). I read this quote at the front page of all my NCERT books back in school. How I apply this principle now is a slightly modified and nuanced version, but it comes from the same root. My version of this talisman is to have gratitude for what I have by thinking about a) specifically what I don’t have which is causing this sense of having “less” b) think about those people in the world who don’t even what I have in this specific area.  So if I don’t get permission to go out at night or travel to a particular city, I think about women in other regions who don’t even have the liberties that I do, because the theme of having “less” here is with regards to gendered liberty specifically. In this Gandhi quote, the theme is financial lack. This can be transposed to any other situation where you feel you are lacking something, like a dream job- think about those who feel even more lost or trapped than you at their current jobs, rather than randomly think of those who have less in a general way. Behaviourally speaking, according to Dan Ariely, our brains are wired to compare, so this is a scientifically effective approach that anyway comes naturally to us humans.
  2. Buddhism’s True Happiness- Buddhists believe in simply appreciating the present without any comparisons because true happiness is in the moment, and transient (short lived) happiness is when you’re happy because of something external and materialistic. The former is the truest form of happiness, which is long-term, sustainable, transcends all material desires, whereas the former is gratification that keeps you trapped in the cycle of suffering. . This is a brilliant way to remind yourself that whatever you are upset about not having won’t give you true happiness in the end anyway, so you might as well embrace the present moment because you have no control over anything else. This is a very purist way of looking at gratitude and happiness, focused mindfully on the present moment.
  3. Law of attraction- As preached in The Secret, this form of gratitude is purely focussed on feeling good, as a secondary goal, through which one tries to achieve the primary goal of manifestation. It is more materialistic than the other approaches to gratitude. This is a “means to an end” approach assuming that by having gratitude, you will be able to attract more abundance into your life.

We apply these different strategies depending on our state of mind and causes of suffering. Some have a preference for one of these over the others. The first form of gratitude helps the layperson whose challenging day-to- day issues, the second form helps those who struggle less with materialism, and the third works for those who have a lot of material desires.

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