Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, November 25th, 2016 – 24 Cheshvan, 5777
Deep gratitude and thankfulness expresses itself with a need to return the favor and pay it forward. It also makes us happier with our lives.
This past Wednesday evening, an at-capacity crowd filled Westminster Presbyterian Church for our first annual Abrahamic Thanksgiving service. With representation from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities, this wonderful event reminded us all of how much we share and of how connected we can be while celebrating our differences.
That simple message played itself out in different ways; the dinner featured food appropriate to the dietary customs of each group; the music and talks all presented a variety of worship styles; and during the dinner, large numbers of people chose to sit with folks they did not know.
The message I wanted to bring was how gratitude is a mindset and a discipline. When practiced over years, it makes us happier, healthier and more connected with other people. People who really focus on gratitude even find it in unexpected areas, such as in their hardships. Indeed, the question I left people with, and that I want to offer you as well was, “What event in your life are you now grateful for which at the time you were not grateful for?”
I think what is so interesting about this question is more than just how hindsight changes our perceptions, but how our perceptions change our experience of life. It’s true that some people are born with a happy-go-lucky disposition; it is also true that through repeated practice and dedication, we can all make ourselves happier. That is achieved in large measure by searching for moments and experiences for which we can feel grateful. It’s not what happens to us that matters-that’s the attitude of someone caught in a victim mindset. It’s how we view those events from the best possible light.
After sharing this message, I stumbled across yesterday’s article on gratitude by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He brought to light a very interesting study known as the Nun Study which tracked a group of nuns beginning in 1930. Each nun at that time wrote an autobiography of what led them to the cloister. Not surprisingly, those whose autobiographies expressed more gratitude, love hope and thankfulness lived, on average, seven years longer than those who were less grateful.
Judaism is often viewed, even by Jews, as a religion of rules. Those rules have a goal and a purpose. For example, we are asked to recite 100 blessings a day of gratitude. We are meant to emphasize an appreciation for what others do for us (hakarat hatov.) As we head into another Shabbat after our collective holiday of Thanksgiving, maybe you want to do something good for yourself.
If reciting 100 blessings sounds too onerous or mechanical, how about a journal or a FB posting each day in which you review what you are grateful for that day? In my own family, we have attempted to ask when we sit down to dinner, to name a high and a low of the day. What’s the worst that could happen? You might end up happier, more content and live longer. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?
Shabbat Table Talk
- Do you think you are more of a complainer or more of a thanker?
- Have you asked the people around you how they see you in this regard?
- What is the best thing to happen to you over the last day/week/month?
- How easy was it to find answers to number three? How readily, in other words, could you recall your gratitude?