Though the Buddha for sure didn’t say anything about the tradition of Thanksgiving day, he regarded the quality of thankfulness, “Katannuta” (gratefulness), as a very essential mental quality for one’s personality development and wellbeing.
Among the three principal refugees that the Buddha taught his disciples is the refuge in the “Sangha”, or the “community”. Buddha pointed out the “Sangha” as a source of refuge, protection and an element in the growth of knowledge and understanding.
The very foundation of human life is built on our relationships with other people around us, and the environment. For millions of years, ever since humanity has been crawling out of its primate stages in evolution, it is the gradual awareness in us about the need of being with others, the protection and enriching experiences offered just simply because of others being there. This helped us to grow from a wild primate to a society building social human species that we are today. Not perfect, but better.
Buddha says that experience of “Gratitude” is one of the most essential mental qualities for the growth and development of a person (i.e. to become a more enlightened person) and it is a very important factor in the rise of mental peace and happiness.
The base for developing gratitude resides in developing a broader understanding of the interconnectedness of our environment and our experiences. One of the greatest discoveries that Buddha proclaimed he achieved during his enlightenment was not some miraculous supernatural power but a clear understanding of the vast interconnectedness of life. Buddha taught that every thing is dependent on conditions. One may think that one has achieved something by one’s own efforts, but that is just pride and egoism. An aware and intelligent person realises that the efforts of many people are necessary to accomplish anything.
In Pali language (the language spoken by Buddha) the word for Gratitude or Thankfulness is “Katannuta”. The proper translation of this word means one knows (annu) what was done (kata) by others for one’s own benefit. Here the emphasis is on the knowing or awareness of the benefit that we derive from the acts of others that gives rise to the experience of gratitude and thankfulness. So the Buddha teaches us not just to cultivate a psychological sense of moral thanksgiving but to become deeply aware of the richness of the vast and constant interplay of our relationship with what is around us. Through this awareness the spring of gratitude is naturally released from the depths of our heart. And thus practicing mindfulness and gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which our personal story is unfolding.
This realization develops a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. Such a gratitude based on a deeper awareness gives rise to the feelings of generosity, which helps further the cycle of gratitude and joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it also builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind and heart.
Normally it is easy for us to feel gratefulness when we experience a direct, a more visible beneficial favour done to us by others. But when one becomes mindful of the vast interdependence of life, one sees reasons to be grateful in even simple and not so visible acts that are constantly occurring all around us. Just drinking a cup of coffee one becomes aware on all that was done to produce it, and to be served in a cup on your table. The farmers who grew it, the people who transported etc and the people who prepared and served it are all part of benefitting us. And thus one experiences gratitude and thankfulness in even simpler and mundane acts.
Such an experience helps us to see the value in society, to cherish each other and to appreciate even indirect chain of actions that constantly unfolds around the world. In these troubled modern times of today’s world rife with the constant threat of fear, hatred and violence expressing themselves as terrorism etc., a deeper sense of gratitude and thankfulness will help us to learn to appreciate each other and to find ways to be grateful to each other.
When we reflect mindfully, we can see that even our simple little things are so dependent on every one else in the world. Countless people contribute daily to make our life what it is. From the simple restaurant waiter who serves us a cup of coffee to the mailman, everyone that we interact with plays a key role in helping us flow through our day.
Our cellphones and gadgets are produced by the people in China and other such countries, our clothes and fancy dresses are often made by the poor people in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, medicines and groceries that we buy in our next-door store come from all around the world. All these things are possible only because of the toil and sweat of thousands of strangers around the world. If we just looked deeper we would realize that we really need each other and we should be grateful to each other for so many reasons. Though we will never personally meet or know all these kind people, we can certainly show our appreciation to the people we meet daily.
Buddha said that gratitude is a very high virtue both for the wellbeing of a person and for the society as a whole. Gratitude is the key to unlocking a more open and rewarding perspective on life. Feelings of appreciation are always accompanied by the elevation of one’s state of life and the broadening of one’s perspective. And, the more our life expands, the more profound our sense of gratitude becomes, to the point where we can feel appreciation even for the problems we face in life. Gratitude is a great antidote for the poisons of greed, jealousy, resentment, and grief.
An attitude of gratitude is key to our well-being, and is a powerful cure for depression. Recent research works have suggested that people who are more grateful have higher levels of well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships.
Another good quality about Gratitude is that it helps us to appreciate the things we have in our lives in the present moment (rather than always focusing on what we don’t have) and thus giving rise to higher level of self acceptance, personal growth and purpose in life. Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life and are more open to seek support from other people and grow from the experience. Grateful people sleep better as they think less negative and more positive thoughts just before going to sleep. Buddha said that Gratitude is one of the essential ingredients in integrity and a healthy personal character trait.
Instead of focussing so much on that one day of gratitude, celebrate Thanksgiving every day.