Ushering in the New Year With Immense Gratitude

I am immensely grateful to have made it to another year in this world. It seems morbid to frame it that way, but consider that the vast majority of the 108 billion people who have ever existed had short, painful, and miserable lives that often ended in terrifying violence, famine, or disease.

This remains the reality for tens of millions of people around the world, and it’s only by random luck that I was born in just the right time, place, and condition not to be in the same position. I — and most of you reading this — are literally in the top 3-4 percent of all humans who have ever lived, for no discernible reason than random chance. (This doesn’t even include the many people who live in similar prosperity but whose lives are cut short by freak accidents that could just as well happen to anyone.)

Of course, this kind of gratitude should be had every moment of everyday, but given the context, now is as good a time as any to highlight it.

The Parent of All Virtues

The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero observed that “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Acknowledging every good thing in our lives, no matter how brief or small, at all times, helps fuel kindness, benevolence, and other positive traits. Numerous schools of thoughts, as well as every major religion, have affirmed the importance of gratitude to both individual and societal well-being. I can attest to the importance of gratitude for my own mental and emotional health, but fortunately there is lots of evidence to back it up, too.

In light of the universal importance of gratitude, psychologists and social scientists have increasingly focused their attention on exploring the benefits of gratitude. Multiple studies have shown a correlation between gratitude and increased well-being—not only for the individual exercising gratitude, but for their recipients and even third parties. Continue reading

The Importance of Gratitude

Though feelings of gratitude should be a regular activity, one might as well take advantage of the spotlight offered by Thanksgiving to reflect deeply on both what we are grateful for, and why gratefulness itself is so important.

The Greater Good Science Center, based in the University of Berkeley, California, unveils the social, psychological, and even physical benefits of practicing gratitude, as told by a leading expert on the subject, Robert Emmons.

The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.

Indeed, this cuts to very heart of my definition of gratitude, which has two components. First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.

The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

Emmons’ research on the power of regular thankfulness has gleaned four “transformative” effects: Continue reading

Sarvodaya Turns One Year

I almost missed it, but today is my blog’s first anniversary. Last January 25th I made the decision to create a blog dedicated – as the tagline indicates – to whatever topic my mind wanders to. Random thoughts and reflections, favorite quotes, something I just read or saw – everything I could literally think of was open game. I finally had a venue for expressing myself to the world, a place where I could gather all of my cherished contemplations and experiences.

It was a very slow and difficult start, and I almost put aside the whole thing more than once during the course of the first half-year. My posts were time consuming, writer’s block was frequent, and time and energy were often in short supply. My lack of technical prowess made navigating through WordPress, simple as that now is, a considerable chore at first. But I was determined to have my own little niche on the web, and at this point I feel a lot more adept at posting everyday (sometimes more than once) and tweaking my blog into something more presentable and welcoming (i.e. coming up with a more attractive design, better manageable post length, etc).

I had other intentions in mind when I made Sarvodaya, but I won’t take up any time or space sharing them since I’ve done so many times before. The fact is, regardless of my reasons for blogging, it would all be meaningless if I didn’t have an audience that actually cared to read and respond. Each of you is the only reason this blog is still around. My most cherished activity besides reading wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for each of you investing your time and effort to validate my expressions.

Truth be told, I’d probably still be posting at least occasionally even if I didn’t get any views, just as I did during the first few months that I started writing. But my drive wouldn’t be as great if I didn’t have open-minded people with whom to exchange views and experiences. Doing something that involves other people, even in the most passive sense as this one, is a great motivator.

There are around one hundred million blogs out there, many of them written by people of far greater prominence and following. My competition is fierce, and in this fast-paced and data-saturated society, people have very little attention to go around. The odds were against me from the start, and I’m still grateful for whatever views and subscriptions I can get.

In short, thank you. Thank you all for supporting my writing with your readership. Whether you’ve merely skimmed through a single post or read through every single one, I’m very appreciative. I look forward to continue writing well into the foreseeable future. I can no longer remember what it’s like not to have a blog to update at least once or twice a week, if not daily. I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

Many thanks and well wishes to you my dear readers.

Final Christmas Reflections

As a child I always saw holidays, most of all Christmas, as something magical, even when discounting the mythology of Santa Claus. Such a joyous and festive time seemed otherworldly, almost as if the entire world – and all its horror – paused for just a few days to allow everyone a happy respite. When you’re caught up in having a good time, you forget all the things that worry you, and all the bad in the world – you escape physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Such a sentiment still lingers in me to this day. When I’m having a good time, I like to think that everyone else is too. I’d like to think that time has stopped while we all engage in festivities, spend time with loved ones, and reinforce one another’s good spirits. This perception (or wish) isn’t limited to Christmas or other holidays: it’s any occasion or moment when I’m content, and everything and everyone around me seems to be as well. Otherwise, it’s hard to enjoy yourself when others can’t – it brings you down, and drags you back to a more unpleasant reality.

I for one feel guilty or undeservedly privileged – why should I have fun while others suffer, many of them good and honest folks? How can I enjoy myself and indulge in rich-world pleasantries while the majority of the world is mired in poverty, disease, and injustice? Even in my own community, there are thousands out in the streets or barely scrapping by, and many more working during what would otherwise be a vacation. I’m having fun, and they’re toiling, struggling, or both.

I don’t like to imagine all these bad things still going on while I enjoy myself. I don’t like to accept that wars still continue, people still clock into their low-wage jobs, and personal tragedies are befalling millions even on a day when we’re supposed to be having a magical time (even a nonbeliever like me can’t shake away that traditional outlook, as my prior post explains). We all deserve a chance to enjoy  ourselves and just take a break, if only briefly.

A little bit before Christmas Eve, two bombs went off in Syria, killing over two dozen people, and reminding me how thousands are still dying in the name of freedom. A similar tragedy befell Iraq around the same time, killing scores more. Nigeria began its Christmas day with a gruesome terorrist attack against a church, just as devout worshipers were leaving mass (several other minor but still fatal attacks occurred concurrently). These are just a handful of the horrors that claim our fellow humans at an unending rate – it stops for nothing. The planet still turns, and a fun holiday in one part of the world, for just a handful of the globe’s denizens, means little else to most people. If only it still meant for me what it did as a child.

I still like to reflect on the positive acts that nonetheless transpire concurrently, often unnoticed: acts of charity or justice, to name a few. I know there’s still a lot of good in the world, and that even the most oppressed and impoverished people manage, through sheer willpower and perseverance, to care a little happiness for themselves whenever they can. But it’s small comfort compared to the magnitude of needless human suffering that still goes on despite our our presumed technological, medical, and ethical advancements. I’m reminded of this video my friend posted on my Facebook group not along ago:

I don’t mean to be such a downer so soon after the holidays. I had a very pleasant season, and one of the best parties in years. I’m not at all glum today, despite the somber reflections. I simply feel a bit unfilled now that a nostalgically happy time is behind me, and I’m forced to confront the real world once more, even though as a news junkie, I still got wind of these tragic events (albeit with a level of cognitive dissonance). I just wish more of the world could share in my good fortune. If there’s one silver lining to all this, it’s how strongly it reminds me to be grateful for all that I have, you readers included.

I hope everyone has a great holiday, and better still, a great life. Never forget what and who you have.

Thanksgiving Reflections

Amid my indulgence of a rare day off and lots of delicious food, I did attempt to take the time to truly reflect upon what I was grateful for. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long.

I’d like to wish everyone a great thanksgiving, and to express my own gratitude to each and every one of you – friend, reader, or acquaintance – for enriching my life in one way or another. I am a very fortunate person. Most people in this world don’t have a computer they can share this on, or a delicious meal they can enjoy with their families. In all of human history, I represent a minority. I’ve never known true loneliness, disease, poverty, or fear. I’ve been through my share of hardships, like everyone, but I’ve always been lucky enough to have a vast network of wonderful people to support and inspire me. I am extremely grateful, and should be each and every day.

I’ve had a really good life. In fact, I’ve had an exceptionally good life when compared to so many billions. I know I’ve made this case numerous times before, and a lot of people are probably sick of it. But I can never cease to be so grateful for everything I have.

After all, why me? Why should I have so many wonderful, loving people enriching my life? Why should I have lived a life free of suffering and misery? Even now, in the face of some very trying financial troubles, I still have it far better than most people (i.e. I still have a job, a home, and a comfortable standard of living).

Seeing all that food, and being surrounded by so many loved ones, revealed just how wealthy I am – physically, socially, and emotionally – when compared to so many others. I truly felt on top of the world, and at that point I realized what little reason I have to be unhappy and unfulfilled. I already have so much more than I could ever need at this point. Even if I desire more, as I admittedly do, I can be content in knowing that, as I stand, life is as good as it needs to be.

With all that said, I am very grateful. Grateful not to fear going hungry or thirsty, to live in a time and place untouched by war and degradation. Grateful to have such a loving and supportive family, and parents who raised me well and put everything they had into giving me the comfortable, happy life they never did. Grateful that my life is free of the personal tragedies and troubles that have bedeviled so many people I know.

I’m also grateful to you, my friends and readers, for motivating me so much over all these years, and solidifying my purpose in life: to give back to a world that has given me so much, even though it didn’t have to.

I’ll end this post on a less dramatic note – a nice bit of trivia and history regarding Thanksgiving.