Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a feeling, from the heart or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.
At first glance, gratitude doesn’t seem like a very Buddhist concept. It’s an important part of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic view – all things come from God, so one should be grateful to God for everything.
The Islamic sacred text, The Quran, is filled with the idea of gratitude. Islam encourages its followers to be grateful and express thanks to God in all circumstances. Islamic teaching emphasizes the idea that those who are grateful will be rewarded with more. A traditional Islamic saying states that, "The first who will be summoned to paradise are those who have praised God in every circumstance."
As Buddhism is nontheistic, to whom would we be grateful?
The answer’s clear: Everyone. And everything.
In the most traditional sense, Jamgon Kongtrul says that attaining enlightenment depends on working with sentient beings, so we should be grateful to them all.
Pema Chodron puts a different spin on it.
The slogan 'Be grateful to everyone' is about making peace with the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected. Through doing that, we also make peace with the people we dislike. More to the point, being around people we dislike is often a catalyst for making friends with ourselves. Thus, "Be grateful to everyone."
"Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding," he says. "Being relieved of the endless wants and worries of your life's drama, even temporarily, is liberating. Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a feeling of being blessed, not in the sense of winning the lottery, but in a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development."
An attitude of gratitude is a way of accessing joy. It doesn’t mean denying that life is painful, but noting that there is good along with the bad keeps us from feeling overwhelmed by either.