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The Art of Gratefulness

Moshe Unger
Posted 8/27/21

One day, the student of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic Movement, encountered a water carrier huffing and puffing with a few heavy pails of water. The carrier was very depressed …

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The Art of Gratefulness

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One day, the student of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic Movement, encountered a water carrier huffing and puffing with a few heavy pails of water. The carrier was very depressed and was complaining to everyone who was willing to listen, “I’m exhausted of carrying water all those many years. I don’t have enough savings to retire so I need to continue carrying water in my old age.”

A few days later the students encountered the water carrier again. This time he was jolly and looked content and happy. He said, “I’m so grateful that I am still at least able to carry the water in my old age so I can sustain myself and enjoy my day after work.”

What we have or what happens to us is very important, but at the same time the outlook and the focus of life is just as important and detrimental in a person’s happiness and well-being. 

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year is coming up. This year it comes out to be September 6 at sundown until the night of September 8.

As we roll into the new year, we need to stop a moment and reflect on the goodness we had last year. On Rosh Hashanah we pray for a sweet new year, but we can’t ask for a new one before thanking for the old one. When we appreciate what we have, we open ourselves up to receive more blessings in the future.

The last two years were simply off the charts in their uniqueness. There has been a lot of pain and suffering but, at the same time, I’ve seen so many articles and stories of people recounting how these experiences changed them for the better. Many people came to appreciate more family and time alone. Some have started thinking more about the positives in life and some have changed their focuses to do things that they care more about. 

One article I read was of someone who lost his mother in the first few months of Covid. He was in great pain but at the same time he started having a deeper connection to his mother like he has never had before. Even if he can’t show appreciation to her physically, he studies and does good deeds on behalf of her soul, as Judaism teaches to do. Also, he became much closer to his father in the aftermath of his mother’s death. 

Many criticize the religious emphasis on gratefulness by saying that it is naïve, and it minimizes the negative and failing things in life. My answer to this is twofold, a practical one and a fundamental one. 

First, if gratefulness and focusing on the good makes us happier then we should do so even if it sounds naïve. If theorizing what life “should have been” makes us sad, why should we think about it? 

Second, humans tend to focus on what they are missing. Even when someone has all that they need, they’ll automatically focus on what they still don’t have. This premise, that we need to have everything to be happy, is a false premise. Once we dismiss this premise, everything that we do have becomes a gift, that’s the right way of living, and it is truly an art worth achieving.

A few minutes every day of expressing verbally gratefulness to what we do have will make a huge huge impact on our lives. Maybe it can be done every day during sipping the morning coffee… that’s what I do. I thank for the details of the past day and pray for the details of the coming day. Enjoy the coffee!

Questions? Email me: moshe@mosheunger.com

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