Gratitude and Happiness

The first noble truth of Buddhism, which is often translated simply as suffering, actually has a richer meaning. It conveys a sense of bitterness, of unsatisfactoriness, of incompleteness. The Buddha was realistic. He did not deny the existence of happiness in our daily lives. Life is filled with many small joys: the pleasure found in a warm cup of coffee, or the happiness contained in the smile of a child, or the satisfaction we feel when we complete a task. However, all of these happinesses are tempered by transitoriness. They do not last. As such they are not a source of true happiness. No matter how good life is, there is always has an element of unsatisfactoriness.

Intellectually, we may understand the theory. Indeed, we may have heard this teaching hundreds of times. Yet, we may never have realized the truth of it experientially. As a result, we continually try to find lasting happiness in the things of the world. It is a project that is doomed to failure because stuff always comes up. Things do not go as planned. Or something is never quite right. If, for example we go out to dinner, we may not appreciate the food before us because it is either too spicy or too bland. Perhaps we are uncomfortable because it is either too hot or too cold. Or maybe we are unhappy because someone at the table is not paying enough attention to us, or too much. There will always be some little discontentment present.

The Buddha was very clear: Life is, what it is. We get sick. Things don’t work out as we planned. Stuff goes wrong or breaks or doesn’t work. There is always something that is unsatisfactory. And because that unsatisfactoriness is uncomfortable, we notice it and focus on it, believing that if we can just change that one thing, we will be happy. But it never works. Ultimately it is not the thing or situation outside of ourselves that needs changing. Rather it is we ourselves who must change. Until we recognize this fundamental truth – that the things in this world are ultimately unsatisfactory and are not source of lasting happiness – we will continue to suffer by getting frustrated and angry at the world. And since anger and frustration are in themselves not happy states of mind this compounds our suffering, our dissatisfaction, our discontentedness. No one really wants to be angry, we all prefer happiness. However, if we are not careful, if we allow ourselves to react to more and more of the unsatisfactoriness in our lives with anger, then that is what we become – angry. Not happy but angry.

There are several antidotes to the anger / frustration that arises in response to the unsatisfactoriness in life. In our tradition, the primary antidote we apply is gratitude. It does not require yogic feats of concentration, visualization, or analysis. Like many of our practices, it is easily applied to the lives of people with jobs, spouses, and children.

ThanksOne begins cultivating gratitude simply by recollecting the kindness, help, as well as material goods such as food and shelter that one has received. Ideally this should be done daily, perhaps for a few minutes before going to bed. That way one needs only reflect on the previous 24 hours. With only this very little effort, we quickly realize that we have received more than we have given or contributed. We also begin to notice and experience gratitude for many of the things that we had previously taken for granted: small kindness done by others, or something as ubiquitous as the beating of our own hearts. Often, as a result of this practice, spontaneous gratitude begins to arise at odd moments in your life, like when you take a shower and are overwhelmed with gratitude for the water that comes out of the shower head.

We can, over time, even have gratitude to people or situations in our life that have been very difficult. After all, they helped bring us to where we are today. That is the great gift of gratitude. Every moment, every unexpected turn presents us with mystery and possibility. Gratitude allows us to relax our attempts at controlling each moment. It creates the spaciousness to open to the unknown. If we are willing to surrender to the moment, to approach it with humility, knowing that we do not know everything, then in every encounter there is the possibility of awakening and experiencing profound gratitude and happiness.

Each moment is, just as it is. If our minds are filled with craving and a sense of lack, then we will never find peace or happiness. No moment will be enough. No-thing will satisfy us. We will always feel that we are lacking something and that something needs to change. However, if our minds are filled with gratitude, then each moment is gift – complete, and wonderful, and joyous.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

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6 Responses to “Gratitude and Happiness”

  1. melhpine Says:

    Reblogged this on Melting-Pot Dharma and commented:
    This is the best description I’ve ever seen of Buddhism’s First Noble Truth. Thank you, Paul.

    • Peace Paul Says:

      I am glad that you found my blog, so that I have had the good fortune to discover your. You write with a powerful and moving voice.

      • melhpine Says:

        And you, my brother, write with great clarity, devotion and love. May you be well, may you be happy, may you find inner peace, and may you continue spreading the dharma in the West.

  2. Bobbing Around Volume 15 Number 8 | Bobbing Around Says:

    […] Paul is a Buddhist teacher and I often find his words illuminating. Read his brief post on the role of gratitude in achieving a good life. […]

  3. Contentment: The Yogi’s Wealth | Peace Paul's Weblog Says:

    […] the idea of contentment as a source of “constant wealth,” is compelling. I recently wrote about unsatisfactoriness as a quality of Dukkha – the first noble truth of Buddhism. No […]

  4. Deepening Your Practice in 2018 | Peace Paul's Blog Says:

    […] 4. Give thanks! Gratitude is transformative and healing. Many of us are awash in abundance and do not realize it. Spend a […]

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