The Overflowing Joy of Gratitude


Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and founder of A Network For Grateful Living, is nearly 90 years old. He has witnessed many of the painful and tragic events of the twentieth century. And yet, as he shared in a recent Foundation-sponsored episode of Krista Tippett’s On Being, his commitment to gratitude is undiminished.

In the interview, Brother David draws on an important distinction between the unrealistic goal of being grateful for everything that happens in one’s life, and the more modest goal of being grateful in every moment of one’s life. “The reason why I use the words ‘gratitude’ and ‘gratefulness’ and ‘thanksgiving’ in the way in which I use them is that we really need different terms for our experience,” he told Tippett, in their conversation held at the Gut Aich Priory monastery in St. Gilgen, Austria. “We all know from experience that moments in which this gratitude wells up in our hearts are experienced first as if something were filling up within us, filling with joy, really. But not yet articulate. And then it comes to a point where the heart overflows and we sing, and we thank somebody, and for that I like a different term. And then I call that ‘thanksgiving.'”

For Brother David, gratitude can be characterized as the overflowing of joy that arises from attending, beholding, and listening. And it’s very important that it does overflow, Brother David continued. When it does not, we become possessive and that chokes us. “There is a very simple kind of methodology to it: stop, look, go. Most of us are caught up in schedules, and deadlines, and rushing around. And so the first thing is that we have to stop, because otherwise we are not really coming into this present moment at all,” he explained.

More about Brother David’s work can be found in a collection of research and reflection at, a website sponsored by the Foundation that offers practical ways of exercising gratitude. He has also given a TED talk on the topic of gratitude and its relationship to happiness. “If you think it’s happiness that makes you grateful, think again,” he says. “It’s gratefulness that makes you happy.”