Thank you for the world so sweet
Thank you for the food we eat
Thank you for the birds that sing
Thank you God for everything
This childhood prayer has been taught to countless children as grace before or after meals. A sense of gratitude, a thankful heart, is something that we like to see in children. And perhaps, as we serve out the meal, we feel a pleasant glow that we are the instruments through which God has provided and that the children are grateful for what is given.
It is sad if, amongst our adult concerns, we lose this sense of grateful connection with our Creator. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
You see, the Lord has given us so much in life, but we don’t have that thankful heart. Instead of asking the Father to give us the boons in life, we should ask him to give us that heart which is full of gratitude for what he has given to us. We need that understanding to thank him for what he has given, but we are always protesting what he has not given.
With his all-encompassing vision, the Master sees just how blessed we are; he knows the entirety of God’s grace and generosity – but equally, how limited our vision can be. Our vision can be so obscured by our narrow focus on ourselves that we fail to appreciate our own grand heritage.
Counting our blessings and feeling grateful is an exercise that can lead to greater well-being and happiness in our worldly life. When we recognize the good things that have come our way (count our blessings), feelings of contentment arise instinctively and naturally. Furthermore, when we remember not just the things in themselves but the one who has given them, a warm connection is established between that person and us.
Robert Emmons, an eminent academic, has written several papers on the psychology of gratitude, showing that being more grateful can lead to increased levels of well-being. For example, in 2003, Emmons and McCullough published a study showing that college students who expressed gratitude were more likely to feel optimistic, exercise regularly, and were less likely to report ailments. Similarly, the authors of an article entitled “Giving thanks can make you happier” cited a psychological experiment where the study participants, having written a letter to someone they wished to thank, were asked to deliver it to the recipient. Participants’ happiness and life satisfaction levels increased dramatically after completing this task.
What is it that we can be grateful for? Is it health, family, friends, a kindness shown, or a source of income that provides the necessities of life? And if any of these becomes flawed, or is taken away, are we glad for the help we received to get through? Are we grateful that there was a doctor to tend our wounds? Grateful that a friend stood by us when tragedy struck? Grateful that we at least had a bed at the end of a bad day? When the sun shines, do we rejoice in nature? Are we grateful for the air we breathe or the rain that waters the earth?
Although the origins of the following proverb remain disputed, its most probable author is the seventeenth-century Persian poet Sa’di: “I cried because I had no shoes but then I saw a man with no feet.”
The proverb urges us to be happy and grateful for what we do have rather than focusing on that which we don’t. Almost always, someone is worse off than we are.
The results of gratitude are numerous. If we acknowledge and feel grateful for the kindness of others, we are more likely to pass the good turn on and be kind ourselves. If we enjoy and are thankful for the beauties of nature, we will look after the natural world and avoid abusing the environment. Gratitude is not just a feeling; it increases goodness in the world. Mentally, our thoughts become focused on the positive and away from the negative.
Let’s take it further: this turning away from negativity and self-obsession is precisely what we try to do spiritually. Of course, the essential tools for this are the simran, dhyan and bhajan as taught by the Master, but positive thinking also helps. Behind the kind hands that help us along our way in the world is the one Creator, our loving Father. Maharaj Sawan Singh wrote in The Dawn of Light:
Whatever good or bad happens to you, through whatever person or object, directly proceeds from our loving Father. All persons and objects are but tools in his hand.
This is an extraordinary statement, and if we make an effort to understand it and take it to heart, it cannot do other than bring us to a state of awe, acceptance, and gratitude. Just as cultivating a sense of gratitude to benefactors in the world creates a happy connection with them, cultivating a sense of gratitude to God, our benefactor, affirms one’s connection with the divine, as we cannot help but conclude that everything is a gift from him. This, in turn, helps us annihilate the ego. When we acknowledge that everything in our life comes from the divine, it finally dawns on us that we – you and I – are nothing.
It’s rather like rolling a snowball in soft snow. The ball may start small, but as it rolls, it grows, and the rolling becomes more and more effective, gathering a great deal of snow. Like this, our gratitude and sense of connection with God grow and become dominant in our life.
How do we best express gratitude? In answer to this, we might ask ourselves the question that every parent asks: what do I want for my child? The answer that most parents give will be, “I just want him or her to be happy!”
If we are grateful to God, we will also be deeply grateful to the one who has come to our level to make him known to us – our Master. We can show gratitude to God by honouring and obeying our Master, by using the gifts we have been given in a responsible way, and – importantly – by enjoying them. If we are happy and happily engaged, we make him happy! There’s no better way of saying thank you.