“Be grateful for what you have.” Deep down, you know it’s true. You should feel lucky to have a roof over your head, clean water to drink and a place to sleep. But then you get stuck in traffic and that coworker who totally doesn’t deserve it gets a promotion and your landlord raises your rent again, and it starts to feel pretty impossible to be thankful for anything. During these moments, we turn to Buddhist monks—who practice gratitude and loving kindness despite having few material possessions—to guide the way.
How to Practice Gratitude, According to 3 Buddhist Monks
1. Trust That Everything You Need Is Already Within You
If you’re type A, it can be tricky to shut off the “self-improvement” side of your brain. There’s always one more crunch to do at the gym, one more hour you could log at work and one more chore that could be done around the house. But these things don’t define your self-worth, and they can’t even come close to what Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön calls our “basic wealth.” Our basic wealth exists in each of us and provides unlimited joy and abundance, if we can only awaken to it.
“We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement,” Chödrön writes in her book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. “All these trips that we lay on ourselves—the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.”
How do you tap into this understanding of your own basic wealth? Create a meditation practice. When you sit quietly every day (it doesn’t have to be for long—maybe 15 minutes or so), you will begin to get in tune with your basic wealth. As you practice, you will soon realize that you have everything you need to be happy right there inside you.
2. Change The Way You Move Through The World
Your alarm rings and you hit snooze three times. Then you’re late, so you rush through your morning routine. By the time you get to work, you’re behind, and you spend the rest of the day frantically trying to work faster so you can get back on track. By the time you get home, you’re so exhausted that you can’t even remember what you ate for breakfast—wait, did you eat breakfast? Being grateful is the last thing on your mind.
Sound familiar? It happens to all of us—well, except maybe Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who has made it his mission to teach us how to slow down and be more compassionate, not only to other people but to ourselves. And according to Hanh, that compassion can start with the way you walk.
“When we walk like [we are rushing], we print anxiety and sorrow on the earth,” Hanh famously said. “We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth. Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” Your feet are your foundation, so if you change the way you walk, and continue to do so carefully and mindfully (even on those days when you’re ridiculously busy), you’ll change the way you carry yourself, which impacts the way you interact with everyone throughout the day. Try it.
3. Love Where You Are Right This Second
You’ve always wanted to be an artist, but for the past five years, you’ve been stuck in middle management at your day job, trying to sneak in time to paint on the weekends. On your worst days, it feels like you’re “less than” because you’re not the full-time artist you always dreamed you’d be. But Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm believes this can be an unhelpful thing to tell yourself, especially if you think you’ll be happier when you finally attain your goal.
“To think that you will be happy by becoming something else is delusion,” Brahm says in his book Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties. “Becoming something else just exchanges one form of suffering for another form of suffering. But when you are content with who you are now, junior or senior, married or single, rich or poor, then you are free of suffering.”
That said, if you want to go full-time with your art, go for it. Just remember that quitting your job isn’t guaranteed to make you any happier than you could be feeling right this second.