My sister called me one day and said ‘try something different- it works wonders. Along with saying your regular prayers on waking up in the morning, face the sun and say a thank you for a few things, whatever you would like.’ I said I would try and try I did. I must say my day was better in terms of being more cheerful and happy. In my home as a practice we were not allowed to complain much about this or that. My mother would chide us immediately about being ‘ungrateful kids’ and that was a real dressing down for us full of shame and regret. Greed was looked down upon. Charity for the poor was routine. Father would feed the birds daily with ‘bajra’ who would make loud chirpy noises awaiting his arrival every morning. A water vessel would also be refilled daily. During any ‘puja’ at home my Mother would take out a ‘Roti’ for the cow, the dog and the crow as a gesture of gratitude to God for giving us enough. Such Hindu rituals inculcate a sense of gratitude to a superior power outside ourselves who nurtures us and in return we must care for others. It shoots down feelings of arrogance of the narrow and self centred ‘I’. The belief is that ‘you cannot achieve anything in life without the blessings of the Almighty’. It’s a great thought to make us humble, respectful and peaceful. The text Ramayana says: “To repay a good deed with another is the essence of Sanatana Dharma.”
Much later when I when studying the new movement in the West on positive psychology I came across many social studies on the virtue called ‘gratitude’. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology, at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people. They were compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. One of their assignments was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. This intervention evoked a huge increase in happiness scores of the participants. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month. Such studies emphasised the link between gratitude and well-being.
Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have researched on gratitude. In one study, they asked three groups of participants to write a few sentences each week, on different topics. One group was asked to write about ‘things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week’. A second group was asked to write about ‘daily irritations or things that had displeased them’, and the third group wrote about ‘events that had affected them (with no specific emphasis on them being positive or negative). The duration of the study was for 10 weeks and the results were as expected- those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than the other two.
‘Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship’.
‘Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not’.
Numerous studies have been done by positive psychologists to emphasise the point that gratitude is good in many ways. It helps in developing empathy for others, being thankful for the help people give you, it helps in developing a sense of well-being, improves your mood and your self esteem as well builds confidence. It improves relationships and restrains you from exploitative practices with others. Being grateful for what you have also grounds you to your reality and gives a sense of security in contrast to people who are constantly aspiring for more wealth and harbouring feelings of frustration with their current conditions however good they may be.
In the current age of materialism and ethical crisis, where everyone wants more of everything, through the shortest route possible by compromising on values, we find big confusion about the ethical code of conduct in every sphere of life. In Indian homes parents may not be laying down the right and wrong of behaviour with clarity. When a parent breaks rules and tells lies the children cannot be forced to follow the right codes of conduct. When there is immorality in the behaviour of parents and other significant guardians such as teachers, policemen, relatives, the children will follow the bad examples set by elders. It’s a vicious circle.
As gratitude is considered to be the most precious of all virtues, its rapid decline and descend will prove to be the cancer that will erode the foundations of social fabric of good living.