Thoughts on Gratitude From The Last 3000 Years
Lately, the scientific community has been abuzz withstudies proving the benefits of gratitude. Practices that cultivate gratitude are now known to boost physical, emotional, and social well-being. This is not a new idea; thinkers, philosophers, and gurus have intuitively known this for millennia.
Here are 15 thought-provoking quotes pulled from the last 3000 years, all about adopting an attitude of gratitude :
“When the sun rises, I go to work. When the sun goes down, I take my rest. I dig the well from which I drink. I farm the soil which yields my food. I share creation. Kings can do no more.” – Ancient Chinese Proverb
This proverb is the ancient version of the catchy modernday statements: “Some people are so poor all they have is money” and “The best things in life aren’t things.” These fundamental ideas never get old.
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu, 600 BCE
Although wanting what you have has been the theme of many modern day self-help books, the concept is at least as ancient as Taoism.
“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” – Buddha, 500 BCE
The Buddha taught that a rich life stems from being grateful for who we are, what we have, and who we are with.
“There is no austerity equal to a balanced mind, and there is no happiness equal to contentment; there is no disease like covetousness, and no virtue like mercy.” – Chanakya, 400 BCE
All of these concepts are all related: when we are committed to being grateful in any given moment, we become less focused on petty sources of discontent (like jealousy and holding grudges). This leads us toward a state of equanimity—a balanced mind.
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus, 300 BCE
Endlessly wanting more and never being satisfied with what we achieve is not exclusively a product of modern American culture. Epicurus warned us against this cycle over 2000 years ago.
“For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” – Bible, Phillipians 4:11, 100 CE
Even the Bible recommends an attitude of gratitude.
“Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.” – Epictetus, 100 CE
Greek philosophers understood the value of wanting you have, too.
“Contentment brings supreme happiness.” – Patanjali, 400 CE
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lists contentment as one of the fundamental principles of yoga.
“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” – Rumi, 1200’s
Rumi advised us to count our blessings—even the blessings in disguise.
“Contentment consist not in adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire.” – Thomas Fuller, 1600’s
Often, we do not need more things; we need less desire. This starts with cultivating gratitude for what we have.
“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” – Frederick Keonig, 1700’s
Lao Tzu said it. Epicurus said it. Frederick Keonig said it. Maybe one day humankind as whole will finally heed this advice.
“To work with God's happiness bubbling in the soul is to carry a portable paradise within you wherever you go.” ― Paramahansa Yogananda, 1900’s
This echos Patanjali’s ancient wisdom that contentment—feeling satisfied despite your circumstances—is the seed of fulfillment.
There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment. ― Swami Sivananda, 1900’s
Satisfying desire is addictive. Cultivating contentment is the only way to break the cycle.
“The attitude of gratitude is the highest yoga.” ― Yogi Bhajan, 1900’s
In the second yoga sutra, Patanjali defines yoga as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Gratitude breeds contentment, and contentment breeds equanimity.
- “When we receive a gift, we feel gratitude. Through pranayama we learn gratitude for life and gratitude toward the unknown divine source of life … Because breath is life, the art of judicious, thoughtful, ungreedy breathing is a prayer of gratitude we offer to life itself.” ― BKS Iyengar, Light on Life, 2000’s
One simple way to cultivate gratitude: get deeply, reverently, devotedly present with your breath.
Written by Barbie Levasseur, Bay Area writer, yoga teacher, and mom.