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TED Talk: Want to be Happy? Be Grateful!

The one thing all humans have in common is that each of us wants to be happy, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.

This is a TED Talk that everyone should hear and hold dear. Brother David Steindl-Rast speaks about gratitude – or more to the point, about being grateful. And he goes on to say that it is the grateful people who are happy, not the other way around. He invites us to understand that many people have everything it might take to be happy…and they are not. Instead they want more of what they already have or they want something else. On the other hand, Mr. Steindl-Rast points out, there are many people who have misfortune in their lives yet are still happy – even radiant. So if you think that it is happiness that makes us grateful, think again. It is being grateful that brings happiness, according to this wise gentleman.

The key, according to Brother Steindl-Rast, is to be people who live gratefully: not just once in awhile but all of the time, in each moment. We live gratefully by becoming aware that every moment is a given moment, as we say. It’s a gift. None of us has earned it. We have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given, and yet, the moment is the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us. Each moment holds opportunity. If we didn’t have this present moment, we wouldn’t have any opportunity to do anything or experience anything. This moment is a gift. It’s a given moment, as Brother David Steindl-Rast offers.

Opportunity is the gift within every gift. And though we have a saying, “opportunity only knocks once”, we are invited to think again. Every moment is a new gift, over and over again, and if you miss the opportunity of this moment, another moment is given to us, and another moment. Behold, Brother Steindl-Rast says: the master key to our happiness is in our own hands. Moment by moment, we can be grateful for this gift. And, he goes on to say, we aren’t expected to feel grateful for violence, oppression or exploitation. Yet we are to be grateful “in every moment” for the opportunity to learn and grow: to respond to the opportunity that is given to us.

In my own life, some very difficult moments have occurred recently concerning the care of my elderly mother who is almost 95 years old. During some of my lowest moments – moments filled with guilt and anger, frustration and disappointment – I had the opportunity to forgive and extend compassion and empathy to loved ones who were being judgmental and accusatory. I found my heart soften as I extended love, across the miles, to my family members. I felt peace fill me up as I chose compassion over blame and understanding over close-mindedness. I have used each moment to learn and grow- and to live gratefully.

Brother Steindl-Rast offers a three-step method for being grateful in the moment: 1. Stop 2. Look 3. Go. As he recalled a trip to Africa where there was no running water, he would stop each time he used a faucet in America and notice the flowing water. He looked at the gift of water-on-demand and took a moment to be grateful for it. And finally, “go”: really do something. What we can do is whatever life offers in that present moment. Whatever it is, he says, can be a potent seed that can revolutionize our world.

I have noticed a wave of gratefulness happening in our culture and I believe it is because people are becoming aware how important gratitude is and how it can change our world. Brother Steindl-Rast believes it can change our world in immensely important ways, because if you’re grateful, he says, you’re not fearful, and if you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of abundance and not out of a sense of scarcity, allowing giving and sharing to happen.

In closing, Brother Steindl-Rast says a grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people, and the more joyful people there are, the more and more we’ll have a joyful world. People are becoming aware that a grateful world is a happy world, and we all have the opportunity by the simple stop, look, go, to transform the world, to make it a happy place.

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