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My father, who is now 85 years old, unceasingly looks at life’s situations from the philosophical vantage point commonly described as “the glass is half full, not half empty.”
An eternal optimist, he wanted to teach us as kids about how every situation can be seen differently depending on our viewpoint. He said we have a choice to make: either take an opportunity, or get stuck in turmoil. Looking back, he was so positive about things that it sometimes became annoying, especially during our grumpy teen years. At times we even teased by calling him Mr. Super! I can still recall his loud, slightly pitchy voice resonating from the bottom of our staircase singing this anthem from his time in the Navy…
Oh! How I hate to get up in the morning
Oh! How I’d love to remain in bed
For the hardest blow of all
Is to hear the bugler call
Ya gotta get up
Ya gotta get up
Ya gotta get up it’s morning
This song and the enthusiastic way in which he would sing full force to us at daybreak personified his happy disposition on life to our family, not only encouraging us to get out there into our own lives, but to do it with bravado and brawn.
They must be constantly encouraged and made eager to gain all the summits of human accomplishment, so that from their earliest years they will be taught to have high aims, to conduct themselves well … and will learn to be of powerful resolve and firm of purpose in all things. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 135.
I’m still trying to figure out where my father gets his steady wellspring of gratitude and at the same time, help my own kids get into the practice.
Have you heard the saying, “have an attitude of gratitude?” Does gratitude simply mean being thankful for your life, and having a great attitude about it in the present moment? The Latin root, gratus, denotes pleasure or something pleasing. So, does being grateful mean being full of pleasure?
This definition doesn’t go deep enough, even though it sounds easy when things are going well. Naturally if we are injured or experiencing some great loss, a death even, where is the gratitude then, and from what depths could gratitude be mined up? Sometimes we grieve for years over the tragedies of life, so how can we possibly sustain feelings of gratitude?
One of the comments from a recent article I wrote on stopping mind chatter was:
Practicing gratitude, cultivating it deep from within not just on the surface, helps bring peace of mind. With gratitude we gain a positive energy that comes from knowing the value of our life, wanting to engage in it, and not wanting to waste our time and energy on negative, unproductive mind chatter.
This comment was so well-stated that it compelled me to share it here, because it indicates how we can go beyond the simple dictionary definition about gratitude. The Baha’i teachings urge us to express our gratitude to God at least twice every day:
This quote makes sense to me. If we practice prayerful, meditative gratitude mornings and evenings, no matter what is going on with either pleasure or pain in our lives, we can be more prepared, our reservoir will be full of restorative powers, ready to be drawn upon when needed.
Even while suffering a loss and fully allowing ourselves to grieve for a time, we know that our grief can be a guide for opportunity if we have the practice to allow that process to take place. We tend to tighten up and go into survival mode when encountering distress, which is sometimes necessary, but if the practice of naming our appreciations is habitual we will be flexed and strengthened to more readily bend towards thankfulness. That’s one way to look at the Baha’i view of life’s struggles:
Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 50.
I’m no expert; I’m just looking for ways to help explain to my now-adult kids how they might navigate through their very adult tests. I recently shared these thoughts with them, along with the science of the benefits of gratitude:
Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
Gratitude improves physical and psychological health.
Grateful people sleep better.
Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
Gratitude improves self-esteem.
Do you feel grateful for your life? The Baha’i teachings urge you to step back, see your glass as much more than half full, and be thankful for life:
Try with all your hearts to be willing channels for God’s Bounty. For I say unto you that He has chosen you to be His messengers of love throughout the world, to be His bearers of spiritual gifts to man, to be the means of spreading unity and concord on the earth. Thank God with all your hearts that such a privilege has been given unto you. For a life devoted to praise is not too long in which to thank God for such a favour. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 67.