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.