How to cultivate gratitude in a greedy world

“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner

dating_phase__3125379_281306313.jpgMost spiritual and psychological traditions speak of the importance of cultivating a sense of gratitude in life, if one is to evolve into higher realms of human existence and consistently experience joy, aliveness and meaning in one’s life. This is especially true here in the Western world, where we are bombarded with the lure and illusory promise of material things from the moment we are born. Our entire consumer-oriented culture is based on convincing people that the real solution to their unhappiness and dissatisfaction in life is that they need to buy something they do not yet have (and often really do not need), and then making them feel even worse if they can’t or won’t buy it. All of our major indices of prosperity and success are based on the idea that consumption is good, and more consumption is better. Consequently, even if we do buy the latest thing, our satisfaction is short-lived and fades as soon as the next new gizmo comes out. As a result, people feel badly if their house “only” has 2000 square feet and their car has not grown to tank-size proportions like the ones they see in their neighbor’s driveway and their boat is only twenty feet long.

But what inner qualities does this entire industry of induced consumption breed in us? Unfortunately, it has created a nation of greedy, envious, self-serving, worried, competitive people who tend to put more attention on what they don’t have then what they have, creating more craving, more desire, more emptiness, and more longing. Compare this attitude with that of the philosopher Epictetus, who said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

And this attitude of dissatisfaction exists in a country which has more material prosperity than any country in history. Just how fortunate are we in the United States? According to recent estimates by the United Nations, worldwide, about 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes; some 800 million people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition; and 1.6 billion people still live in absolute poverty. If one includes those living in “relative poverty”, the poor population across the globe amounts to 3.3 billion, more than half of the entire world. In other words, over 50% of the population on Earth would be thrilled beyond belief to live at the standard of most Americans. And yet for so many of us, it’s still not enough.

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