1. The Heart That Fills, Spills
The nature of gratitude is to overflow its banks and circulate. It does not stand still. But remove that ineffable quality of gratitude from the equation, and the virtuous cycle of life breaks down. This is what we've learned from running Karma Kitchen, a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu, a place where the meal is served as a gift by volunteers, and at the end of it guests receive a bill for a total of $0.00.
The bill comes with a note that explains their meal was a gift from someone who came before them. If they wish to pay it forward, they can make a contribution for someone who comes after them and help keep the circle going. Six years later, that circle at Karma Kitchen is still going strong. It has served more than 30,000 meals and now has chapters in half a dozen cities around the world. And it is all sustained by gratitude.
So we've learned a great deal about the importance of gratefulness -- and to spread the good, we've now created a global 21-Day Gratitude Challenge, in which thousands are committing to an attitude of gratitude for 21 days straight, ending on Thanksgiving. By becoming more aware of the many gifts our lives hold and by making a daily practice of expressing our gratitude in thought, word or action, we begin to rewire our habits of thinking in wholesome ways. We begin to tune in to a deeper sense of joy, abundance and connection.
2. Gratitude Connects Us Yo Each Other -- And To Life
The sociologist Georg Simmel called gratitude "the moral memory of mankind." It serves to connect us to each other in small, real and human ways. Remove it from the fabric of our lives, and all relationship becomes an endless series of empty transactions. We become more prone to a sense of entitlement and less available to a sense of life's wonder and mystery. But when we receive something as a gift as opposed to a purchase, we drop out of our patterns of constant calculation. We step out of the realm of price tags and into the realm of the priceless. This is an important shift.
At Karma Kitchen, the fact that there is no way to know who in the chain before you paid for your meal -- and no way of knowing who exactly will receive your contribution -- makes it quietly revolutionary. It gently shakes people out of our habitual quid pro quo mindset. It is a system that transcends any one person's control and invites trust in the cycle of the whole. Gratitude is what bolsters the spirit to take that leap of faith. In this context, every contribution becomes an act of profound trust. That kind of trust builds a web of resilience. It is what turns a group of people into an actual community.
3. Gratitude Unlocks Boundless Capacities
Another lesson we've learned at Karma Kitchen is that there is a subtle but important difference between interactions dictated by a sense of obligation or guilt and those that are catalyzed by gratitude. With obligation or guilt there is a sense of indebtedness. It is a disempowering state. Gratitude is the opposite. It is a feeling with wings, joyful and spirited. And, paradoxically, it is the act of receiving with gratitude that puts us back in touch with our own boundless capacity to give.
Gratitude is a creative state. At Karma Kitchen, guests and volunteers alike have illustrated this fact in myriad ways. In addition to the monetary contributions from guests that keep the wheels of the restaurant turning, Karma Kitchen has witnessed thousands of other spontaneous offerings -- everything from songs, poems and artwork to exquisite magazines and inspiring DVDs that are made available to all on our "Kindness Table."
But perhaps even more important than what transpires at the restaurant is what happens outside its walls. Gratitude does not recognize strict boundaries, and once ignited, it asserts itself in the rhythm of our daily lives. It makes us kinder and more compassionate, more willing and ready to act on our impulses for good. As one guest-turned-volunteer put it, "I've realized Karma Kitchen has turned me into the kind of person who now stops when I see someone with a flat tire on the highway."
4. Gratitude Is A Muscle
There's more to it. Science is now showing us that gratitude can positively influence our health, happiness, energy levels and longevity. A growing number of studies indicate that gratitude is a muscle that can be exercised and built up. Simple interventions like maintaining a journal of what you're thankful for have been demonstrated to have a deep impact. The key lies in sharpening our awareness and tuning in to the gifts that we hold in each moment.
That's why this November, KindSpring.org and YES! Magazine are launching the 21-Day Gratitude Challenge. Thousands of people across the world have already signed up and committed to a daily practice of gratitude every day for 21 days straight, culminating on Thanksgiving Day. When you join us, you join a community that shares insights, support and experiences as we take on this journey together.
Karma Kitchen has taught us repeatedly that gratitude is not inert. It does not sit at the bottom of the lake like a pebble and daydream. It rises like a small sun and shines forth without scheming. And, like a sun, it gives and makes things grow.
This week, let's rise and shine together -- with gratitude. Sign up for the 21-Day Gratitude Challenge here.