There are a couple of reasons we are told to be grateful. The first is to express gratitude for the life and things we have. Often, this is practiced in a religious context, but not always. Second, many people claim that people who feel gratitude will be rewarded with more of what they want.
There is a third reason to practice gratitude that is rarely expressed in our society. In my opinion, this third reason is the most powerful one. I am thankful to my step-cousin, Golf, for pointing this out to me a few years ago. He sent a small greeting card that contained the Kataññu Sutta. Golf, who spent several years as a Buddhist monk, said he considers this Sutta to be one of the most powerful teachings of all time.
“The Blessed One said, ‘Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by
civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.'”
How does gratitude bring about and reinforce integrity of character? On the surface, this seems peculiar if one has never contemplated such a notion. If you already regularly practice gratitude, the Sutta makes perfect sense.
If we are lacking in the gratitude department, this means we’re not paying full attention to life and that we take life and what we have for granted. If we only give lip service to gratitude, we lack integrity.
This will be demonstrated this week by the commercial orgy of consumption called “Black Friday”. Millions of Americans will sit down to Thanksgiving feasts and express feelings of thankfulness for their lives, loved ones, and the things they own. The very next day, perhaps even tomorrow night, many will then hurry out to wait en masse for the retail stores to open so the best bargains can be theirs to own or to give as Christmas gifts.
This fairly new “holiday” is aptly named because it seems to bring out the worst behavior of many people. We find many examples of rudeness, overt violence, and even deaths. At the root of this is greed.
So, what is greed? Basically greed is the lack of gratitude. Greed is the strong attitude of believing we are lacking. That might be expressed as thinking there’s not enough money, stuff to go around, or lusting after certain people. Greed is the catalyst for envy, expectations, entitlement, resentment, regret, hatred, and other negative drives.
On the flip-side, gratitude is the antidote to greed. Think about those times when we feel gratitude. This emotion enables deep satisfaction with our lives and how they are unfolding. When we are thankful for all that we have, greed is a non-entity. We feel good about ourselves and about the world. This satisfaction overshadows any lingering feelings of envy, regrets, hatred and other destructive urges. This is the pathway to integrity of character.
Integrity is the partner to contentedness with life. When we feel integrated with life, we are connected and fully present. Isn’t contentment what we really want in life?
Why would we not want to practice gratitude?