Thoughts on Gratitude From The Last 3000 Years
Lately, the scientific community has been abuzz with studies 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.