A Grateful Heart

“Will I learn that joy can spring only from a grateful heart?” I wrote in 2008. This simple sentence grabs readers’ attention and guarantees sincere reflection and conversation. It also means even more to me now than it did when I first found the words. I understand it better every day. For all the truths revealed by philosophical clear thinking and re-thinking, the necessity of gratitude for experiencing joy may well be the most important.

Gratitude purifies the mind from a sense of entitlement—it replaces self-importance with empathy, self-absorption with humility, heavy-handedness with humor. A spirit of thankfulness negates the inclination to dissatisfaction and complaint while it affirms an instinct of appreciation. It teaches me to take the world seriously and me lightly. A grateful heart has wide doors, flung open, come what may. It never forgets that the world is much bigger than my individual perception of it—it liberates me from the unmanageable job of being the center of the universe. A child philosopher puts it well: “Ms. McCarty, I think philosophy just means I need to get over myself to know how to live.” Yes, a grateful heart steers us as surely as the North Star, guiding us toward personal, abiding generosity and kindness as it roots us in awareness of the gifts we’ve been given.

A few weeks ago I gathered with a group of child philosophers. Children teach me more about gratitude every time we meet. When I asked each of them to name something that they may have overlooked for which they should be grateful, this answer, and the expression on this middle school philosopher’s face, stays with me: “I’m grateful that my five senses are so acute that I can really, truly experience this amazing world.” Carter was shaking his head as he stole my heart.

Science informs us that gratitude is good for our health. Of course it is! And philosophy tells us it’s good for our mind. It’s a powerful tool for sorting through confusion and overcoming despair. There’s no telling what the practice of cultivating a grateful heart can bring to any life and to every life touched by that open heart.

Wishing Thanksgiving to one and all.

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