Thanksgiving — like many other American terms and customs — was alien to the Indian-English lexicon. This would include Halloween and, on a lighter note, “rest-rooms” (recall the hilarious confusion between the Chief Engineer of a leading MNC and its US collaborators on where rest-rooms should be located — while discussing the layout of a diaper factory that was to be set up near Pune). Till a few years ago — if asked “what are you doing this thanksgiving?” even very enlightened and educated Indians — not exposed to American culture were flummoxed. Still many people do not understand the origin and significance of ‘Thanksgiving’ among the Americans and think it is probably another celebration invented by “Hallmark” cards like Valentine’s Day.
That brings us to the question — how much of a premium do we Indians place on “gratitude”. The mere lack of a festival or formal occasion for expressing such sentiments should not be construed as lack of the sentiment per se. But, growing up in an indulgent family environment, we are subconsciously made to believe that “thanking” is an act of formality. Though it may be wrong to generalise — one can argue that even in our attitude to God we tend to “ask” for more and thank less.
Sri Ramakrishna in one of his parables used to narrate the story of a Brahmin, who was visited by Lord Indra in disguise. The Lord wished to see the garden, which his host was known to be proud of. Admiring the place, Indra innocuously enquired of the Brahmin — did you create such a beautiful patch all by yourself? Pat came the Brahmin’s reply — “of course, I did”. Amused, Lord Indra magically produced a dead cow behind the hedge and asked — “and, who killed the cow?” Taken aback — the Brahmin muttered — “Oh, that must have been the Lord”.
We, of course, know of people who donate huge sums to temples on fulfilment of a wish. There are also stories of how devotees strike “partnership” deals with certain deities. But, those on reckons are more by way of “quid-pro-quo” rather than an act of thanksgiving.
Once I had asked a restaurateur friend — one of the rare entrepreneurial Bengali, which itself sounds like an oxymoron — what is the secret of his success? He said with a smile — I drink a glass of gratitude every morning. One could have given it a pass — thinking he was just being glib. But, knowing how humble he is, I could feel the depth and sincerity of his words.
At the risk of simplistic generalisation, one can say — people who have made it in life the hard way tend to be more grateful than others. Whereas those to whom success has come easily are less so, if not outright arrogant. The first lot, having worked their way up — appreciate the value of what they have, while the latter tend to take success and material possessions as a matter of right.
The point here is not to arrive at value judgement or get into a moral discourse. But, increasingly people are discovering the practical benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratefulness in life — to the extent of some psychologists and coaches are calling it “gratitude therapy”.
The short and staright outcome of gratitude is — we start appreciating the present rather than yearning for the past or craving for unfulfilled desires and imagined needs of the future. This spirit of acceptance — gives us a confidence in our own abilities. Having realised that — we have reached thus far with the collaboration of many others (and, for the believers, blessings of almighty or supreme power) makes us less vulnerable and open to seeking help in the journey ahead.
Here are some home-grown tips on the practice of gratitude. No claims to originality — all gratefully acknowledged as borrowed from others, who are far ahead in this journey:
· Keep a journal: At the start try to consciously recount some high points in your life and ponder if there was someone (or it could be more than one person) who you can give credit for things turning out the way they did;
· If you feel like it, write a thank you note or make a call to them acknowledging how she or he helped you at that time. This need not be mushy or sentimental — but must have a ring of authenticity to it;
· Even just a call or mail to say hello or enquire how they are — without mentioning what made you remember them — can make a difference;
· If you feel hesitant to do even that — the simple act of remembering the instance and accepting it was not just you but how others too contributed to the success can be cathartic;
· In the daily journal, write some good things that happened to you during the day. Reflect on how they were made possible. If there are some other whom you ought to be grateful to. That is a great way to put the matter in perspective and attach a true value to the achievement;
· Develop the habit of saying ‘thank you’ for small favours or tiny acts of help or service received. Good to remember — no one is obliged to help us even if it is a part of his or her duty. They could have easily botched up by doing it in a half-hearted perfunctory manner;
· If you are in the habit of praying — first thank in your mind the God of your choice (“Ishta Devta” as we call it in Hinduism — could be Jesus, Allah or Nanak) for all that He or She has given you till date. Think of the less fortunate who do not have what you possess. Thereafter, leave the rest to the almighty — asking only to be shown the path and grant the sense (awareness and clarity) to do what is right. Swami Vivekananda used to say — never go to the Lord with the demeanour or mentality of a “beggar” asking for boons.
More often than not, we come across in life people who are reluctant to express gratitude or acknowledge the help of others. There are people who find it difficult to face those from whom he or she may have received help on a rainy day. In extreme cases, they may even bad-mouth their benefactors and attribute motives to why they helped them in the first place.
Psychologists explain it as — fear of re-invoking old trauma or regressing into unpleasant memories. But, healing happens only when we are able to face up to the past.
Therefore, in the ultimate analysis, ability to say thank you and mean it — is strength and not weakness.
Gratitude is growth.
PS: There can be one thing in common between American and Indian thanksgiving. That is feasting. Winter is setting in so eat to glory this weekend — but do not forget to be hankful to the powers that be for having the Cash or Credit Card in these days of Demonetisation.