The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means, literally, “recognising the good”. Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours.
If you don’t have a job, but you have your family near and your health – then it means you have something to be grateful for.
If you are in a wheelchair, but you have a clear and focused brain, that is a reason to be grateful.
One of the most recognised and quoted texts in Jewish thought is Pirkei Avot. Full of aphorisms that teach about the potential for living a more fulfilled life, Pirkei Avot (written around the year 200 CE) offers the following: Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own portion (Pirkei Avot 4:1).
That is why Ben Zoma recognises that a rich man is not one who has a lot of material wealth, but rather rejoices (i.e., is thankful) for his lot. If you’d think about our prayer book, we recite “Modeh Ani” when we are standing. When we are talking about gratitude to G-d we are talking about acknowledging our dependence upon the divine. We confess our need of G-d. No wonder that in Hebrew the word for thanks – modeh – also means: I confess. The Modeh prayer we recite upon arising each morning means not only “Thank You, G-d” for returning my soul to me; it also means, “I confess, O G-d,” that without You I would never wake up alive. Our sages say, “From the day God created the world no one had thanked God until Leah came and thanked Him upon giving birth to Judah, as it is said, ‘This time I shall thank the Lord’ ” (Berachot7b).
I think there are different levels of thankfulness, and or gratitude. I recently heard that world famous author, Dr. John Demartini (whom I have met) does not get up in the morning, until a “tear of gratitude” runs down his face – what a wonderful habit to cultivate in life!
Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Julia Margolis
PS: If you enjoy reading books, you should try “The Gratitude Effect,” by the same author.