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Thanksgiving: Practicing Gratitude and Contentment

November 20, 2023

The celebration of Thanksgiving presents a welcome opportunity to experience the bounty of the season; perhaps through gathering together with those we love, enjoying nourishing home-cooked meals, sharing of treasured family or cultural recipes, cocooning inside with a cup of tea on chilly days, and exploring the change of seasons in the natural world. This spirit of harvest inspires us to reflect on the abundance in our own lives, how we have reaped what we have sown, what we have learned from our experiences, and which experiences bring us the most joy and happiness.

Cultivating joy and happiness in everyday life is vital, and, through the practice of contentment (santosh), we can begin to sow the seeds of happiness within ourselves. This allows us to carry that contentment into all aspects of our lives, without needing external reasons to be happy.

Baba Hari Dass taught about contentment as a foundation for a life of gratitude, service, and peace. He wrote “Contentment, compassion, and tolerance are the pillars of peace. Without contentment, the restlessness of the mind will never stop. By cultivating acceptance, the mind remains calm and equal in all situations.”

In Yoga philosophy, through sadhana (spiritual practice), we calm the waters of the mind, easing the churning of steady thought-waves. In this way, we more easily bring our attention to the present moment, and in turn, draw our attention to a place of santosh within ourselves.

While regular sadhana is one way to strengthen our sense of contentment, we can also use times of change as opportunities to cultivate this practice. Recently, in much of the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe, we turned the clocks back to end daylight savings and return to standard time. Suddenly, we now awaken to brighter morning skies, and darkness falls earlier. As we navigate this change in the balance of light and dark after spending long months in summer sunshine, we can practice contentment by reminding ourselves of the aspects of darkness to be treasured; for example, the dark allows us to feel the comforting warmth of candlelight or a crackling fire and be nourished by slow, cozy evenings.

Tending to the spirit of contentment allows us to more thoroughly enjoy the wide variety of loving, exciting, fruitful, and rewarding life experiences that come our way. As we gather together during this holiday season, may we rejoice more fully in the warmth of those we love. May we, as we consider all that we are thankful for, recognize the place of contentment within. The more we nurture and grow that spirit, the more naturally we will begin to live in that space, our eyes further opened to the joy around us, no matter the season. In turn, gratitude grows, becoming ever more profound and expansive.

The Author

  • Allie Wells

    Allie is a writer, artist, and former resident of Mount Madonna Center. She lives in San Francisco and spends her time reading, walking in Fort Mason, and drinking lots of coffee.

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