The Importance of Gratitude
“My own gratitude heart is all that matters.”
Down through the ages, great thinkers in religion and philosophy recommend cultivating gratitude as a key to happiness and satisfaction. A task as simple as keeping a daily gratitude journal in which one reflects on one’s blessings can powerfully transform life. Yet what if you get stuck in the starting gate with only a blank mind or or cliché ideas that don’t resonate in your core being when you try to count your blessings and cultivate a thankful spirit in your daily life?
The Three Questions of Naikan
One tool to increase gratitude in your life is a process of self-reflection called Naikan originated by Yoshimoto Ishin, a businessman and Buddhist practitioner of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan who lived from 1916-1988. Naikan literally means “inside looking” in Japanese and the core practice in this form of psychology popular in Japan is to ask yourself three questions while contemplating your interdependence with the world around you – whether family, friends, work, pets, things, our higher self, etc.
Question 1. “What have I received from ________?
Question 2. “What have I given to ____________?
Question 3. “What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________?
Taking the time at the end of your day to spend 20-30 minutes to look back over the day’s experiences through the lens of these questions can create a radical shift in perspective towards one of increased gratitude. The first question prompts a serious inquiry into all the gifts large and small that we received from others. The second question helps to counteract a spirit of expectation that the world owes us special treatment. Instead of taking the results of the first question for granted as our due, we stop to ask what have we given back to the world around us? Question 3 is the biggest shift of all for those moments when it is easy to dwell on life’s misfortunes and what we didn’t appreciate in someone else’s actions. By turning that perspective on its head, instead try to honestly assess in what way you might have been the source of hassles for others in your day’s interactions. Naikan’s founder Ishin actually recommends that you try to spend sixty percent of your efforts on the third question since it is endemic to human nature to think that the weaknesses of others are insufferable yet our own deserve to be downplayed and minimized.
My own test of trying Naikan in relation to a recent work situation proved very revealing to me. As I embarked on a new project in my job to run a book group, I sought out and received advice, mailings, faxes, phone calls and meetings/conversations that guided my nascent efforts. As I plowed ahead trying to keep up with this task in relation to numerous others, I have yet to formally thank a single person for their time and assistance. Oops!! Naikan has just opened my eyes to some tangible gifts I received to assist me in accomplishing a task and the wisdom of me finding time to write some thank-you letters that won’t require mental gymnastics to express sincere appreciation. This personal experience with the three questions finds me saying Naikan works! Use these three questions in your life to increase and cultivate gratitude. Gratitude achieved, happiness won.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G. K. Chesterton