Q: What practical thing makes a person grateful? — Clergy member, Dallas, TX

A: +One thing that helps me personally is having grown up during the war in Austria, which was Germany at the time. Towards the end of the war, we had nothing to eat. We were just really starving…and when you have so little, you are so much more grateful for the little that you have.

The difficulty in the United States is that there is so much, that there is not this joyful overflowing. I think of gratitude as an overflowing of joy. If the vessel is small, it overflows sooner. That’s why poor people are often much more joyful than rich people, because their vessel is very small. The smallest thing makes it already overflow; and this sparking of life, this joy of life, is the overflow. It’s the overflowing with gratefulness and thankfulness.

So in my case it was having less and therefore learning to be grateful. Frugality might be an important element of learning to be grateful. When you deprive yourself of some things – like on fast days when you have much less than on other days – all of a sudden you notice how good bread is, where formerly you just think it’s the support for the things that you’re really interested in. There’s nothing to put on it: The bread of the sandwich itself becomes something that you really appreciate. Maybe having less might be a way towards that appreciation.

–Your brother David

Transcribed from a question-answer period following Brother David’s talk at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, Texas, on April 7, 2005.

Br. David Steindl-Rast Joy
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.