If there is one thing that we all have in common, it’s that we all want to be happy. It’s something you know about me, and I know about you. And according to Brother David Steindl-Rast, the way to happiness is through gratitude.
Brother Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk, living in a priory in Austria, in his 90’s, and known the world over for his views on gratitude.
When I think of happiness, I think of people and places that make me happy – places and people I love and have wonderful memories of. But when I think of living happy, I think of living in joy.
Joy, for Steindl-Rast, is the kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens. We can experience this joy even in the midst of great sadness. When we lose a dear friend, under normal rather than catastrophic circumstances, there is a joy as we are present with the event at the same time that there is deep sadness.
This kind of happiness – this joy – is the kind of happiness that lasts, and is with us every day.
This kind of happiness comes from gratitude, or in Steindl-Rast’s terms, gratefulness. When he speaks of gratitude, he’s really speaking of connection through being present with what is. He sees gratitude as part of belonging; that there can be no gratitude without belonging, and no belonging without gratitude.
A simple example – when we eat, we’re eating earth, the products of earth. Salt, vegetables that are nourished and come almost directly from earth, animals who ultimately ingest vegetable matter. This is all connected to earth. Then there are all the people who cultivated the land, growing, collecting and processing those vegetables, and the animals that go into the making of the food. Even the table you eat on, the bowl and utensils you use to eat, the chair you sit on while you eat. All of this and much more go into the food you might be eating this moment.
With everything we do we have this direct connection. He calls this The Great Mystery.
There is a daily practice that you can do anywhere and at any time to experience this gratefulness: to fill yourself with joy. He calls it Stop! Look! Go!
Stop! Listen, attend – Stop and see what the present moment has for you. It is whatever this moment presents in a split second. The sound of the heater, for instance.
Look! Behold – look at the unique opportunity this moment has for you. The warmth the heater sends into the room; the sound it makes that becomes a background of a strange kind of stillness. The materials it’s made of; where those materials came from, and the many hands that went into digging the raw materials and shaping them into the parts of the heater. The animals and plants that were displaced by the process, and the way they adjusted. What I must do to adjust the heater to my needs.
Go! – avail yourself of this opportunity. My appreciation of that heater, and my connection to it, everyone who had a hand in making it, all the animals whose lives have been impacted by it, and how I can gain strength in facing my own daily challenges of adjustment.
Doing this simple exercise will give you an immediate feedback of joy.
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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .