What Does It Take To Be Grateful?
Part 6 of the TED Radio Hour episode Simply Happy.
About David Steindl-Rast's TED Talk
We all want to be happy, says David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you're going, and above all, being grateful.
About David Steindl-Rast
David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk who writes about gratefulness. Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing.
He was one of the first Roman Catholics to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and is the author of The Ground We Share, a text on Buddhist and Christian practice, written with Robert Aitken Roshi. His other books include Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer and Deeper Than Words. His most recent book is 99 Blessings. He's the co-founder of gratefulness.org.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
So it turns out the source of happiness might not be discovered in a Harvard lab but in a monastery in upstate New York, where a Benedictine monk named David Steindl-Rast practices something so incredibly simple that brother David says everyone, no matter how busy they, has the time to do it. Take a listen to his TED talk.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
BROTHER DAVID STEINDL-RAST: Now my topic is gratefulness. How is the connection between happiness and gratefulness? Many people would say, well, that's very easy - when you're happy, you're grateful. But think again - is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything that it would take to be happy and they're not happy because they want something else or they want more of the same.
And we all know people who have lots of misfortunes and they are deeply happy, they radiate happiness. You're surprised. Why? Because they're grateful. So it is not happiness that makes us grateful, it's gratefulness that makes us happy. Now we can ask - what really do we mean by gratefulness and how does it work? We experience something that's valuable to us. Something given to us and it's really given. These two things have to come together. It has to be something valuable and it's a real gift. You haven't bought it, you haven't earned it, you haven't traded it in, you haven't worked for it, it's just given to you. Then gratefulness spontaneously rises in my heart, happiness spontaneously rises in my heart. That's how gratefulness happens. And how can we live gratefully? By experiencing, by becoming aware that every moment is a given moment, as we say. It's a gift.
You have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you. And yet, that's the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us. We say opportunity knocks only once. Well, 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. We can avail ourselves of this opportunity or we can miss it. And if we avail ourselves of the opportunity, it is the key to happiness. Does that mean that we can be grateful for everything? Certainly, not. We cannot be grateful for violence, for war, for oppression, for exploitation. But I didn't say we can be grateful for everything, I said we can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity.
And even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult, we can rise to this occasion and respond to the opportunity that is given to us. And we can rise to it by learning something, which is sometimes painful. Learning patience, for instance - that's an opportunity that is given to us. To learn, to suffer, to stand up - all these opportunities are given to us, but they are opportunity and those who avail themselves of those opportunities are the ones that we admire, they make themselves out of life. And those who fail get another opportunity. We always get another opportunity. That's the wonderful richness of life. So how can we find a method that will harness this? How can each one of us find a method for living gratefully, not just once in a while being grateful, but moment by moment to be grateful.
How can we do it? It's a very simple method. It's so simple that it's actually what we were told as children when we learned to cross the street. Stop, look, go. That's all. But how often do we stop? We rush through life. We don't stop. We miss the opportunity because we don't stop. We have to stop, we have to get quiet and we have to build stop signs into our lives. When we open our hearts to the opportunities, the opportunities invite us to do something. Stop, look and then go, and really do something. And what we can do is what ever life offers to you in that present moment. Mostly, it's the opportunity in joy.
If you take this opportunity, go with it and that little stop, look, go is such a potent seed that it can revolutionize our world because we are, at the present moment, in the middle of a change of consciousness. There's a wave of gratefulness because people are becoming aware of how important this is and how this can change our world. It can change our world in immensely important ways because if you're grateful, 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 enough and not from a sense of scarcity, and you're willing to share.
If you're grateful, you're enjoying the differences between people and you're respectful to everybody, and that changes this power pyramid on which we live. And it doesn't make for equality, but it makes for equal respect, and that is the important thing. A grateful world is a world of joyful people, grateful people are joyful people. And that is what I hope for us. And if this has contributed a little to making you want to do the same, stop, look, go. Thank you.
RAZ: Brother David Steindl-Rast.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY")
RAZ: Hey, Pharrell?
PHARRELL WILLIAMS: Yes, sir?
RAZ: So I'm feeling happier, you know. I mean, like, what's your thing? Like the one thing you do to make yourself happy?
WILLIAMS: Just be appreciative. It's all in your perspective. I always try to remind people like, listen, all the young creative minds out there that are listening right now and everybody else that's caught up in buying your happiness versus trying your happiness, you know, like, if you think that your life is happy then you're probably going to notice the twinkles and the interesting things that are happening in your life. It's all in your perspective.
RAZ: All right, cool. Hey, Pharrell, thank you.
WILLIAMS: Thank you so much, man. I really appreciate it.
RAZ: Pharrell Williams, his song - this song - no doubt the happiest one of the year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY")
RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to our show on happiness this week. If you missed any of it or if you want to hear more or you want to find out more about who was on it, you can visit TED.NPR.org. You can also find many, many more TED Talks at Ted.com. You can download the show through iTunes or through the NPR smartphone app. I'm Guy Raz. You've been listening to ideas worth spreading here on the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.