Even though he wasn’t going to be in Norfolk on or near his birthday, I still wanted to have a CD and a special gift on hand for Jorge’s next visit. A few Saturdays ago I selected the music and a little gadget for which Jorge had dropped hints. The cashier thanked me for my business. Then I reflexively thanked him. The young man then said, “Yes, I really do thank you. It is because of my customers that I can make a living, so my thanks are quite sincere.” The expression of gratitude beautifully colored the rest of my day.
I thought about the young man’s thankfulness when I noticed that “The Grass is Always Browner on the Other Side of the Fence Day” was coming up. Whoever dreamed up this holiday, was probably a lot like the cashier. Someone who is quite happy with what they have. I cannot picture an envious, greedy, or selfish thought lasting for very long in that person’s head.
Perhaps you remember a parent or mentor reminding you to be grateful for what you have. Perhaps you then filed it away in your head as just another platitude. Maybe you were repeatedly reminded to feel thankful for what you have. Then, one day, you finally understood the reason to be thankful.
To thank someone is more than just a social courtesy. To be thankful, is a powerful, positive practice. If it is done sincerely, the practitioner will feel more resilient, less stressful, have stronger relationships, and just make us feel more happy.
Today’s holiday is much more than just a snarky retort to the old saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” It’s actually a reality check. Sometimes it appears that your neighbor enjoys a higher quality of life than you. But does she really? Appearances can be deceiving.
Climbing the ladder of success often ends in disappointment, because the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. The goal of keeping up with the Joneses has been frequently debunked. Certainly, it’s good to have nice things. It’s not so good to hunger for ownership of all of the nice things of the world. If one is thankful for what one has, there will likely be more good things for other people to enjoy.
Just as the popular saying about greenery on the other side of a fence is sometimes interpreted as a warning about wishful thinking and endless ambition. The saying about browner grass on the other side of the fence can be interpreted as a warning about Schadenfreude. When you think the grass is always browner on the other side of the fence, hopefully it’s not an expression of superiority. We might look at our beautiful, green grass and think that other people aren’t as clever or as deserving as we are. No, today is not about glorifying pride.
I think the main purpose of The Grass is always Browner on the Other Side of the Fence Day is selfless gratitude. My guru once told me that selfless gratitude is the sweetest of all the spiritual practices. Ironically, it is also one of the most positive selfish practices. He said that gratitude is sweet because it is the most easily cultivated practice. It also requires little or no sacrifice. He said it is positively selfish because so many benefits are gained in return. I was reminded that gratitude practice is a subset of mindfulness practice.
We can hear the rantings of a talk show pundit or famous commentator and get all caught up in all the horrible things that are going on in the world. We are told to be unhappy with the President or minorities or whatever current situation the nation is experiencing at the present time. Some people just seem to have depressing thoughts and self-defeating attitudes. We don’t need to worry ourselves sick over the state of the world, nor must we feel glib about it, either.
Every single person on this planet, without exception, is precious and worthy of gratitude. Likewise, every person on this planet, without exception, is capable of sincerely expressing gratitude.
One of the most beautiful benefits of daily gratitude practice is the direct experience of connection to all life. Gratitude enables us to understand that there is a major context in which our personal stories take place. When we practice total, sincere thankfulness each day, we gain a refined appreciation of the interdependent nature of the world and the Universe. The expression of gratitude leads to feelings of being blessed. Not being blessed as if we’re part of some sort of elite or chosen people, but being blessed because we are fortunate to live in the here and now.
Another gorgeous thing about gratitude is that it is liberating. Gratitude can free us from endlessly wanting more and more stuff and ever more greed. If we’re grateful for what we already have, our worries diminish. If we’re happy with what we have, why should we vainly persue ever more gratification?
Certainly, I don’t want to advocate Pollyanna thinking. We cannot just say, “La la la, the world is just fine and dandy and we don’t need to do a thing to improve matters.” There exists great suffering from poverty, disease, and wars. Even on a personal level, we must encounter uncertainty, great challenges, and many disappointments in our personal lives.
Feelings of scarcity and lust for more are cultivated by the powers that be. The practice of selfless gratitude provides a perfect antidote. It opens the mind to allow us to meet our difficulties with a wise and open heart.
The practice of gratitude is not an advocacy of pie in the sky, wishful thinking. True selfless gratitude helps us not to identify with either the negative or the positive aspects of life. Real gratitude grounds our thinking to enable us to meet life on its own terms as it unfolds.
How can a person mindfully understand that the Grass is Always Browner on the Other Side of the Fence? We can express appreciation for when things are going nicely our way. More effectively, we can give thanks for those times when events are not going our way. We can acknowledge that we have been given an important test from which we can learn something valuable.
An easy habit to cultivate is to say grace before meals.
Before I arouse the ire of agnostics or atheists, I want to mention that giving thanks for a meal does not necessarily mean we must invoke a “higher power”, per se. A meal comes about through the efforts of many people. We can thank the farm workers who grew and produced the food; the transporters who brought the food to market; the grocers who sold us the food; and the people who prepared the meal. If you have a belief in a benevolent being, you can certainly give thanks to Jesus, Allah, Genesha, or whatever higher spirit you wish. The main idea is to express gratitude for the nourishment and enjoyment of the meal.
We need not stop with being thankful at mealtimes. If we are gainfully employed, we can be grateful for the opportunity to work. If we have roofs over our heads, we can be thankful for our homes. If we have a friend, we can express gratitude to him or her, in person. The list of things to be greatful for is endless. At least we can feel great gratitude for this life and the privilege of being alive at this very moment.
I sincerely wish you a happy The Grass is Always Browner on the Other Side of the Fence Day.