Even before I learnt to read or write, my mother taught me two simple words–thank you. When I asked her what those words meant, she simply said, “Say thank you to god in your morning and evening prayers, say thank you to your parents and teachers.” As a child, I could not make much sense of what she said, but the words stuck with me. And I did as I was told – I thanked god, my parents and my teachers every day. Little did I know that by doing so, I was sowing seeds of happiness in my life.
When I was in class three, I vividly remember my teacher narrating an Aesop’s fable, Androcles and the Lion, in the moral science class. The story was about a slave called Androcles who escapes from his master and flees to the forest. While wandering in the forest, he finds a lion crying in pain. As he goes closer to the beast, he realises that it has a poisonous thorn stuck in his paw. He helps the lion by removing the thorn and easing its pain. Later, the lion and the slave are captured by the king’s men. The king decides that as a punishment, Androcles would be fed to the hungry lion. On the day of the execution, the king and his men are assembled in the court. The roaring lion is freed from its cage and it rushes towards its prey. As it comes closer, it recognises Androcles. It stops roaring, bends towards Androcles and starts licking him like a dog. Witnessing this miracle, the king frees Androcles and the lion. The moral of the story, my teacher told me, is that gratitude is a virtue of noble souls.
That day, it dawned on me what it meant to be grateful to others; what it meant to appreciate others’ kindness and what it meant to be thankful. In my formative years, gratitude became an integral part of my value system. I realised being grateful made me happy. Like Brother David Steindl-Rast says in his TED Talk Want to be happy? Be grateful: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Being grateful made me aware of all the wonderful little moments that life comprises of. From the time I woke up to the time I retired to bed, I savoured every moment–the beautiful sunrise, the clear blue sky, good friends, delicious food and everything else I was blessed with. Steindl-Rast says: “It’s a gift. You haven’t earned it or brought it about. And you have no way of assuring there will be another moment given to you. If you didn’t have this present moment you wouldn’t have any opportunity to do or experience anything.” In turn, such experiences of gratitude enriched me as a person. Even little things like being thankful to the hostel cook for the good food gave me immense joy. These little things changed the way I looked at life.
There are a million great things for us to appreciate and be grateful for, and yet we tend to look for reasons to be unhappy.
Swasthika Ramamurthy, an organisation development consultant and coach, feels the same way. She says, “I think the lens with which we look at the world is important. When we look at the world through a lens of deprecation, we end up contracting our hearts and minds.” And it’s true. What you put out into the universe is what you get back. The minute you start looking at the world through a lens of abundance and appreciation, it works like a magnet. The world responds to you through the same lens of abundance, Swasthika observes.
Despite this gift of abundance, how many of us make an attempt to appreciate the good things around us–the beautiful mountains, picturesque landscapes, spectacular skies, pristine waters, sandy beaches, lush forests and beautiful sunsets. They are all right there, yet they tend to miss our eyes. Mostly, we don’t seem to appreciate things until we lose them. It is like seeing a man without limbs struggling to make ends meet and realising how lucky we are to have limbs.
A life of gratitude guarantees happiness, but I wonder how many of us tread that path. There are a million great things for us to appreciate and be grateful for, and yet we tend to look for reasons to be unhappy. “Of the 83,000-odd living creatures on earth, we have had the good fortune of being born humans. Think about it!” Swasthika says.
Indeed, being born a human is a gift in itself. We are blessed with the ability to reason, think and act. No matter how dire the situation is, there is always a silver lining worth appreciating. “The minute we start looking at our own life from this viewpoint, the ability to find joy in everything we do becomes a well stream for more to come,” Swastika says.
In the messed up world that we live, there are a number of reasons for us to be unhappy. Yet, if we cultivate the attitude of gratitude, things around us could get better. Be it small events or big moments, being grateful always makes everything better. This makes me want to thank my mother for teaching me those two valuable words–thank you.