Joy is an expression of happiness, satisfaction, content, thankfulness and freedom and gratitude is the quality of being ready to appreciate and being thankful for the same. Ideally, joy should be the simplest form of gratitude but practically we do not express joy as gratitude very easily.
Factors like greed, jealousy, competition, ego, immaturity, selfishness are few of the villains in human life that do not let us express joy as gratitude easily. Humans have never been content and are always in competition for fulfilling ever growing greedy needs. Life on planet earth initiated with very basic survival requirements and natural death and gratitude. Humans earlier feared death by wildlife or natural calamities, they used to stay together as they knew if they wouldn’t stay in a group they will easily become food for wildlife. But with evolution and gain of knowledge also developed villain like factors, eventually making survival requirement ultimate goal by compromising humanity. Today, we hear news from all over the planet about how humans kill each other through terrorism, murder, exploitation etc and the reasons behind these activities is some or the other form of greed, jealousy, selfishness, competition or immaturity.
The best example is of suicide, it is the inability of humans to express joy as gratitude that leads one to commit suicide. In India there is female infanticide, the superstitious myth that a girl child born is not going to be of any boon to the family and performing infanticide of that child clearly shows that joy is not expressed as gratitude. Child labour, baby dropping, dowry etc still prominent in many rural and urban areas of India are any of these practices a way to express gratitude? We have only been exploiting our own human race since ages by imposing on us these unfavorable rituals in the fear of God or religion or at times pure selfishness. On the daily routine basis not being helpful to others, not saying Thank You for every time you are helped even for smallest possible reason, not being sorry for hurting or committing mistakes, not smiling back as a greeting gesture are few other examples for not expressing gratitude and not being joyful of our very own existence as well as that of others.
Gratitude lifts, it brings to joy. And what as we age, do we cherish and savor more than joy? Pleasure, power, fame, lust, money – they eventually lose their fastballs or should at our very best and wisest we just want joy and when we are filled with gratitude we see rich thick joy in the simplest of things, joy everywhere. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice, one can choose to be grateful even when one’s emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which one can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. A very good quote by Roger Ebert says that “ I was perfectly content before I was born and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. I believe, that if at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves; a little happier, that is about the best we can do.”
Where does this little phenomenology of gratitude lead us? That much we can already say Gratitude springs from an insight, a recognition that something good has come to me from another person, that it is freely given to me and meant as a favor. And the moment this recognition dawns in my heart: “Je suis reconnaissant” – I recognize, I acknowledge, I am grateful; in French these three concepts are expressed by one term. It may be that one’s intellect insists on suspicion and does not allow one to recognize any favor as a favor. Selflessness cannot be proved. Reasoning about another person’s motives can only take one to the point where mere intellect must yield to faith, to trust in the other, which is a gesture no longer of the intellect alone but of the heart. Or it may be that one’s proud will refuses to acknowledge one’s dependence on another, thus paralyzing the heart before it can rise to give thanks. One’s longing for pure selflessness, for true gratitude, may be so deep and so much in discrepancy with what one has experienced in past that one gives in to despair. This inner gesture of gratitude can only come to itself when it finds expression of joy. The expression of joy makes the original gratitude over a favor received rise to a higher level.
Grateful living is important in the world because in our constant pursuit of more and better we can easily lose the sight of riches that lay right in front of us. Grateful living is a way of life which asks us to notice all that is already present and abundant — from the tiniest things of beauty to the grandest of our blessings- and in doing so, to take nothing for granted. We can learn to focus our attention on and acknowledge, that life is a gift. Even in the most challenging times, living gratefully makes us aware of, and available to the opportunities that are always available; opportunities to learn and grow and to extend ourselves with care and compassion to others. Grateful living is supported by daily practices, tools, habits of mind and behaviors that can be learned, translated and applied to many aspects of our lives. It is also nourished in a community and in a relationship. Small grateful acts every day can uplift us, make a difference for others, and help change the world. Gautama Buddha says, “ Let us rise up and be grateful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so let us all be grateful.”