“You say that real happiness is cultivated through a practice of gratitude. But, what does that mean? What does real gratitude look like?”*
*Disclaimer: my gratitude muscles suck, and need to be seriously worked out. What lies ahead is an attempt to understand how gratitude plays a role in experiencing real happiness.
Of course, before we can break down the how, we have to dissect the what.
Gratitude; the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness….closely related to: in·debt·ed·ness; the feeling of owing gratitude for a service or favor.
Eh. What’s with these flimsy definitions? How did we become a collective society that uses powerful words such as these in such a passive way?
I define gratitude as an expression of thankfulness for life’s gifts. Gratitude is an extension of Emunah (faith). Emunah is an active response to G-d’s belief in the mission He bestowed on you. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of your gifts, and the second chain in action. When you feel grateful, you give.
Emunah: Faith is born from recognizing that Hashem trusts you (!) and believes you are capable of doing great things. Trust is an active response to your relationship with G-d.
Happiness: Grounded expression of joy in celebration of life’s gifts.
Gratitude: A mechanism for expressing the joy of life’s gifts. The link that holds the chain together.
The main conduit for gratitude used in Jewish expression are prayer and charity. Prayer is a form of thankfulness, and charity is an action born from feeling grateful. I’m cool with the charity part…it’s the prayer part I struggle with, and I don’t think I’m alone.
Like other areas of Jewish thought that I struggle to internalize, prayer has been on my mind a lot lately. Prayer is a form of gratitude, but that doesn’t seem to be the way it is approached by the masses. I’m not judging—I’m part of the masses. My daily prayers are along the lines of “Hey G-d, nice to see ya, mumble mumble, Shema Yisroel, mumble mumble, Alenu, thanks a bunch, see ya later, bye.” I could pray in my sleep, and sometimes, I do, fading in and out as the words do or don’t make it out of my mouth. Honestly, some days, I don’t care.
It’s difficult for me to set time in my day to practice gratitude with my creator, to speak and share what’s on my mind, to say thank you for whatever is, regardless of if the outcome suites what I think I need.
One of the coolest things about an observant life is the way things are built in for us—acts of goodness and kindness, treating others kindly, modesty. But, that could also backfire, because if something is built in, you’re more likely to take it for granted and misuse it. I think that is what has happened to prayer. It’s ingrained in our system, it’s ingrained in our way of life. It’s really hard to see the good in your life, and to be grateful, when the very act of gratitude is the ‘shlep’ of the day.
But, there’s nothing shleppy about prayer! It’s high time we adjust our attitudes of gratitude (see what I did there). It’s imperative, especially now, in the world we live in, to practice gratitude. We need it now more than ever.
Prayer is called ‘the service of the heart.’ That, right there, is a gratitude. Thankfulness is a heart action. It’s feeling the blessings in your life, and then acting on them. Gratitude is taking the time to actively engage in saying thank you for what you have, and running with it.
A real gratitude practice is a channel; it’s a step through the door, a synapse of sorts that bridges faith to happiness. It’s saying, “Hey, Hashem. I have actively decided to trust you, and now, I will show gratitude for the life you’ve provided me with, and act on my gratitude. I accept the mission.”
What does your gratitude practice look like? Every one of us will have our own way. I’ll share my—very broken and desperately in need of improvement—ritual. I would love to hear what other people do, too. let’s learn from each others practices, and bring oomph back into this crucial action.
I pray with my eyes closed. It’s easiest for me to feel G-d, and to feel grateful, when I can imagine being enveloped in a loving hug from my creator. It’s like hugging someone you love but don’t always agree with. At the end of the day, I believe in G-d, and I’m here, so that means G-d must believe in me. I say the words out loud instead of mumbling under my breath. When I’m done, I physically act out whatever it was I thanked G-d for—I make breakfast for my husband, I text my friends to wish them a good day, I check in on my co-workers…I take the life I’ve been given, and act on it.
The built in aspects of Judaism are the best parts, and often the most misunderstood. Let’s do something about it. Up next: What’s the deal with modesty? (Cue the horror-thriller movie sound track).
Ps: Quite a number of you have requested a dictionary of terms discussed in these articles. Your wish is my command! Look out for the Gesher Project dictionary later on this summer.