“Attitude of Gratitude” to Authentic Appreciation

Path with woods in fall
Nadia Colburn // November 20, 2023 // 0 Comments

One of the most expressions of gratitude is the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. This prayer embodies an authentic attitude of gratitude. Jump to the full prayer at the button below. 

Each Thanksgiving, I find myself thinking about authentic gratitude. 

I know that so many people around the world, as well as those close to me, are suffering. To simply express gratitude can feel blind to what is happening. And yet, cultivating a mindset of gratitude can be an expansive, generous, healing and life-affirming practice. 

But I’ll be honest: my journey to understanding and embracing gratitude has been a long and complex one.

One of my earliest memories of struggling with gratitude took place on my 10th birthday.

My grandmother gave me a dress with frills and bows. I never particularly liked fancy dresses, and at ten, I had a fierce independence. But I knew that I needed to thank my grandmother. 

I remember that feeling I got in my stomach as I thanked her. I knew that my thank you was not genuine, and I knew that in getting me this present my grandmother had not really been thinking about me. She had been imagining some version of girls at ten and had been involved in her own relationship with clothes, appearance, and society. 

It didn’t feel like a free exchange. It was as if the adults had given me the present, not for me as much as because they knew it was something they “should do.” And kids at that age have an incredibly keen sense of authenticity. 

As I was reflecting this past week on this moment with my grandmother, I started to think about how problematic it is that children are so often asked–scolded even–to be “thankful” to adults and to overly perform their gratitude for adults, when there is already a huge power imbalance between them. I found myself troubled by this unequal exchange, this unequal channel where thanks is given/demanded. 

For hundreds of years in Europe, there was a similarly unequal economy of “gift giving”: if you were a feudal lord who had been born into wealth (that had essentially been plundered) and gave some of your harvest to the local population, they would be indebted to you for this “gift”. 

And, of course, if you consider the history of the United States, there's a real perversion in thanking Native Americans for what they gave so freely, when the next move was to appropriate the land.

These are but a few examples of ways in which gratitude practices can be misused.

Sometimes the “attitude of gratitude” mindset can do more damage than good if it used to silence people. If we ask people to feel grateful and don’t give them a place to also express pain and sorrow, that can hinder healing. 

Similarly, if we are asked to be thankful and not also given a chance to work towards positive change–in our own lives or in the life of a family, institution, or nation–that also can do more damage than good. 

Gratitude, like all emotions, needs to take place within a framework of an honest field of truth telling and emotional range. 

The world can be heavy with injustice, irony, and paradox, but underneath all of that wounding and lack of trust, there also exists a pure channel of deep gratitude that each of us has access to. 

In other words, there is a gratitude that is not required, a gratitude that holds no debt, a gratitude in which energy flows freely and depletes no one and fills everyone. 

It was later that afternoon with my grandmother that I first gained a glimpse of this kind of gratitude.

After sitting still at the restaurant, we went for a walk in Central Park, and I remember running ahead, and then suddenly looking around me and seeing the clouds above the park and the sun shining down through them. I hadn’t wanted to give thanks inside, but now I felt myself spontaneously giving thanks: it felt as if the sunshine was coming down just for me. 

And something in me shifted. I somehow was able to see from a larger frame. At ten, I knew that my grandmother had hurt my mother as a child, but suddenly I could also see my grandmother and the whole human world in a different light. I saw that she was doing the best she could. And I felt a gratitude for life itself. 

To be alive is a great gift. To see the sky. To smell the air. To sit in a body and then run in that body is a great gift. 

May we appreciate our life and all that supports life: the sunshine, the water, the soil, our ancestors. 

This kind of gratitude is not something that is ever at the expense of suffering, but rather, something that can heal suffering. An attitude of gratitude can, in fact, renew and strengthen us; that gratitude must be authentic, but it is also something that can be practiced and that can grow over time. 

May we approach life and one another with reverence.

In that vein, I’d like to share the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s beautiful Thanksgiving Address, which Robin Wall Kimmerer shares in her wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass. This prayer helps us redirect our attention and live in greater connection:

image of pond in the fall

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

Greetings to the Natural World

The People

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.

Now our minds are one.

The Earth Mother

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Waters

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.

Now our minds are one.

The Fish

We turn our minds to all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Plants

Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.

Now our minds are one.

The Food Plants

With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Medicine Herbs

Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.

Now our minds are one.

The Animals

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.

Now our minds are one

The Trees

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.

Now our minds are one.

The Birds

We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Four Winds

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.

Now our minds are one.

The Thunderers

Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.

Now our minds are one.

The Sun

We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.

Now our minds are one.

Grandmother Moon

We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.

Now our minds are one.

The Stars

We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.

Now our minds are one.

The Enlightened Teachers

We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.

Now our minds are one.

The Creator

Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.

Now our minds are one.

Closing Words

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.

Now our minds are one.

******

This translation of the Mohawk version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address was developed, published in 1993, and provided, courtesy of: Six Nations Indian Museum and the Tracking Project All rights reserved.

******

While I hope you might share this address with your loved ones this week, it is not just for one day of the year. Can you imagine starting every day with a deep thanks for the earth and waters and plants and animals?

This gratitude situates us in the great web of all life, with all beings, and helps us remember the true miracle that it is to be alive and our deep relationship with all beings.

With love, warmth, peace, and deep appreciation for your presence on this precious planet,

Nadia

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