Gratitude – What? Why? How?

Once Ghatotkaca was born, Bhima left Hidimbi as promised and proceeded further along with Kunti and other Pandavas. On their way, they met the great sage Vyasa. Vyasa sympathized with their plight and assured them the kingdom of Hastinapur will soon be theirs. Vyasa directed the Pandavas to reside at Ekacakra. They soon came across the village Ekacakra. They were provided shelter by a Brahmin who resolved to accommodate any traveler approaching his door. One day the Brahmin’s family was in distress. Kunti, hearing their piteous lamentations Kunté’s heart was moved and she spoke to Bhéma. “O son, due to this Brahmin’s kindness we are living here peacefully with no fear of Duryodhana and his brothers. I am always thinking how we might repay this gentle Brahmin. A virtuous man should always return the good done to him with an even greater good. Perhaps now our chance has come.” Then Kunti consoled the family and assured them that her mighty son Bhima will take care of their problem. What is this virtue of gratitude and what value it has in our life? Let’s discuss it.

Why Gratitude?

Gratitude is the practice of acknowledging others’ contributions in our lives, appreciating them, aspiring to reciprocate with them and actually reciprocating with them. Someone may say – “What’s the point, anyhow everyone is selfish, and whatever others do for me is for some selfish purpose”. There is some element of truth in this. Everyone is selfish to some extent. But they are also selfless. At least is not our mother selfless? Everyone has an element of selflessness in them. The more we seek selflessness, the more we see selflessness. The world we see is a product of our own consciousness. If we stop being grateful and stop reciprocating at a selfless level and only work on a selfish platform, we will end up with no genuine relationships : with an empty heart devoid of genuine love. Worldly wealth, fame and accomplishments cannot really nourish our heart. Therefore, being grateful is the core need of our heart. It is not an official courtesy to bear with. It is the way to express and experience genuine love. Moreover, if we act selflessly with others, we will likely encourage them to become more selfless.

Realizing its importance

Every one of us by default has the fault of being selfish. There is strong tendency to complain and criticize about others on one side and to boast about ourselves (BG 16.4). There are strong conceptions and impressions within us. We cannot change them overnight. We need to consciously and consistently cultivate gratitude (BG 3.43). There are three aspects to this – coaching ourselves, seeking favorable company and seeking favorable culture. We need to educate ourselves about the importance of gratitude from time to time through reading wisdom texts like Bhagavad Gita, Bible etc. We can introspect ourselves and see how we are plagued by selfishness and feel the need to cultivate and enhance gratitude. We can befriend those who possess the virtue of gratitude to a higher degree than us. We can experience how being grateful brings about contentment, steadiness and cheerfulness to life and get inspired (BG 4.22). We can cultivate or participate in a culture of gratitude. Acts of expressing gratitude are embedded in various spiritual traditions across the world like Thanksgiving and Guru Purnima.


Recognizing other’s contributions   

Equipped with sufficient inspiration and education, the first step is to recognize other’s contribution. Some contribute directly and significantly in our lives, some directly but occasionally and some indirectly like our role models. Sometimes it may be difficult to understand the gravity of sacrifice. Keeping ourselves in other’s shoes can help us appreciate the efforts and contributions in our lives. Knowing from others can also help. Attending appreciation ceremonies and related occasions can help. Hearing others appreciate someone will help us to develop appreciation for them. The more we do it, the more it becomes easy and natural. Maintaining a gratitude journal and revisiting it will help. The practice will really come to rescue when we are going through a sort of resentment or depression. This will fill us with positive energy and hope to go in life.

Reciprocating with others

When we appreciate from heart, others’ contributions, it is but natural that we want to reciprocate. An easy and quick reciprocation is to appreciate and thank their favor. A simple ‘thank you’ is good to start with but a personal, heartfelt and specific appreciation is effective. Then comes our turn to reciprocate, we can offer or promise a favor. Gratitude is not an obligation that we can get rid of. It is meant to be reminisced, relished and reciprocated. An important thing to note is no act of selflessness can be repaid completely. It is not possible to offer same kind of help to our benefactor. Even if it is same kind of help, it cannot be in the same circumstance.

Curing the selfish heart

Conscious cultivation of gratitude as discussed above goes a long way in becoming selfless. The major hurdle is the existing selfish tendencies reigning our heart. The more we cultivate selflessness, selfishness is automatically pushed back but it is not destroyed. Selfishness can only be destroyed through spirituality. There are three modes of consciousness – goodness, passion and ignorance as described in BG 14.5 They are characterized by selflessness, selfish inclination and selfish absorption (BG 14.17). Through spiritual practices, we can elevate our consciousness to goodness and diminish the influences of passion and ignorance. This will supplement and sustain our efforts to cultivate gratitude.