Insights: The Anatomy of Gratitude

by David Steindl-Rast

The reason I use the words “gratitude,” “gratefulness,” and “thanksgiving” in the way I use them is because we really need different terms for our experience. Moments of gratitude well up in our hearts , first, filling up within us, filling us with joy. And then comes a point where the heart overflows, and we sing, and we thank somebody; and for that, I like a different term. I call that “thanksgiving.” And the two of them are two aspects of the process that is gratitude .

This idea of a vessel that is still inarticulate until it overflows is also very helpful in another way. It’s like the bowl of a fountain when it fills up. It’s very quiet and still. When it overflows, it starts to make noise, it sparkles, and it ripples down. And that is when the joy  is articulate.

For many people in our culture, the heart fills up with joy, with gratefulness, and just at the moment when it wants to overflow, and really, when the joy comes [marketing] comes in and says, “No, no, there’s a better model, and there’s a newer model, and your neighbor has a bigger one.” And so instead of overflowing, we work to make the bowl bigger and bigger and bigger, and it never overflows. It never gives us this joy.

People ask, “Well, how shall we practice this gratefulness?” And there is a very simple kind of methodology: Stop, look, go.

When you are in practice, a split second is enough — “stop.” And then you look: What is the unique opportunity this moment gives? And that is where this beholding comes in. And if we really see what the opportunity is, we must, not stop there, but we must do something with it: Go. Avail yourself of that opportunity.