I believe in gratitude. I was born in the US into an upper middle class family in the 1950s. I had a mom and a dad who loved me, an older brother who was a good companion, and lots of friends. I had a warm house with a soft bed and always plenty of food to eat. I did absolutely nothing to deserve any of this.
As time went by; as I grew older and saw more of the world, I began to understand just how lucky I was. I had to deal with some adversity, but my life was amazingly trouble-free. As I became more aware of the great fortune that I had, I developed a deep sense of gratitude. I have made it a practice in my life to be very intentional about expressing this feeling of gratitude, sometimes out loud, and sometimes just to myself. I don’t “thank God” or really even thank anyone or anything. I am simply thank-ful, grateful, for this life that I have. I don’t do this with the thought that somehow my expression of gratitude will help my good fortune to continue, or win me a place in some heavenly afterlife, but merely to remind myself of what I have. I find this practice of being grateful is nearly effortless and incredibly valuable.
Being grateful has helped me to become a more compassionate person. It leads me to share the bounty in my life. Understanding that I didn’t do anything to “earn” the life I have has made me realize that much of what happens to people is largely beyond their control. Compassion can take many forms, from caring for the earth, to visiting a sick friend, to not eating meat, to smiling at the stranger in line at the grocery store, to saying “I’m sorry” when I make a mistake, to being patient with the slow driver in the fast lane. I’ll admit this is sometimes a challenge, but I’m working on it. It’s a matter of trying to do the right thing. I believe that if our actions are motivated by love and compassion, then we are never wrong. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
For a long time, I have been searching for a belief system. I have often been envious of friends who have an unwavering faith in God, or the Hereafter, or whatever. I have come to understand that I have had a belief system all along. It doesn’t involve a God or a supernatural being or a Heaven or a Hell. Those things may well exist; I just don’t happen to believe in them. What I do believe in was stated eloquently by Edward L. Ericson, a noted Humanist: “Our shared task is to live decently, compassionately, and caringly in the world we inhabit.”
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