TED Talk: Want to be Happy? Be Grateful

This morning we introduce readers to the work of David Steindl-Rast, O.B. by means of this TED Talk on the relationship between happiness and gratitude.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN 55318.


NOTE: This e-mail was shared among friends from my wife Kay’s high school days. When asked how best to introduce her, Kathy replied, “just another person seeking to understand how to respond.”

“It’s so hard to make sense sometimes of all the voices, the messages, that break into a usual day.

“Downtown, I heard the sound of a ragtag bunch of demonstrators on the next block, chanting in one voice, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’, in solidarity with protesters all around the country. I saw an armored police vehicle, moving quietly, on the next block, seemingly trying to get ahead of where the protesters would be coming next. There was no sound at all coming from the twelve or fifteen police who were mounted around the outside of the vehicle, like so many tin soldiers, with protective gear and plexiglas shields. If they were speaking, it wasn’t for us to hear. On the next block, at least two dozen police on bicycles were making their way up a crowded sidewalk; probably more in total than the group of protesters.

“Somewhat shaken, and wondering, as I often do, whether I belong out there with the marchers, and where is my place in the confusing discussion. What does my own voice need to say? I made my way back home. After all, there was no place to leave my car in our crowded downtown if I wanted to join the marchers. I was not “dressed” for a protest. I said to myself, “a walk in the park is what I need, even though it is getting dark. It’s not raining, and it’s mild and not windy”.

“As I walked up the slope around the corner from our house, I heard chanting again, this time happy voices. I couldn’t quite make out the words at first, but soon I realized it was three girls singing “Come on down to our holiday sale, our holiday sale, our holiday sale”. Of course, that group was much easier for me to join, and there were most certainly no police in sight. The girls had hot cocoa, gingerbread cookies, and origami birds for sale. Conversation was easy. One girl told me she was raising money for ‘cancer’, the next for the ‘pet shelter,’ and the last for ‘homeless’.

“I had to offer a prayer of gratitude for everyone who is working to make this longing world a more just and welcome place.”

Kathy Elliott
Portland, Oregon
December 7, 2014

Joy and Gratitude – my cousin Alan

Over lunch today my 89 year-old friend asked what had drawn my attention to my paralyzed first cousin Alan who never spoke a word due to Cerebral Palsy (see Views from the Edge’s  post “Father and Son – Bob and Alan”).

Alan was completely helpless. His body was rigid. He had no control over his bodily functions or anything else. He was utterly dependent on his family. He could not feed himself. He couldn’t speak. Even so, his eyes communicated joy.

The joy of kinship and love came from inside himself in spite of all.  I want the joy and gratitude that emanated from Alan’s eyes and smile whenever we came into each other’s presence. Control is a debilitating disability – an isolating illusion – among the “abled”.

His Own True Self

He sits and smiles,

Douglas (“Doug”) Hall at home in Wabasha

His dog Sparky
Resting against his leg,
His eyebrows hanging
Like willow branches.

The bell has tolled
For him, a tolling
Like a wind-song
From the North
Marking the end.

He sits and smiles,
Peaceful, thankful,
Accepting, connecting
With those he loves,
Caring for those he will leave

The earth, his home,
Calls him to itself,
Beyond eternal claims
Or expectations,
He sits at peace

Mortal flesh he knows
Cannot prolong itself,
Nor should it seek what it
Cannot attain
Beyond its measure.

No control of time
Which bears us all away,
No need to storm
The barricades now
Against the end of time.

He sits and smiles
In gratitude
For wonders of sun and shadow,
For all creatures great and small,
For family love and friends.

For these he sits and smiles –
This self-disclaiming man
Who intended nothing
But his own true self
In whatever time was his.

– Gordon C. Stewart, October 2, 2004

Doug Hall was a giant of a man. He was revered throughout the state of Minnesota as the quintessential “street lawyer” in Minneapolis, a nationally known labor lawyer who left his practice to become the founding Director of The Legal Rights Center, Inc, “a law firm of, by, and for the people.” The people were indigent American Indians and African-Americans.

A few days after receiving the call from Doug and Mary with the news that Doug had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Kay and I spent time with them at the farm near Wabasha, MN. Kay captured a picture of Doug that day with his dog Sparky.I went home and wrote a reflection that later became the opening words of the Memorial Celebration for his life.

A former Chief Judge in Minnesota’s Fourth District Court recalled pulling Doug aside one day into his chambers.

“Doug, I thought you should know a lot of people are talking around the courthouse.”

“Hmmm,” said Doug.

“They’re saying that you’re a communist.”

Re-telling the story all these years later, the Judge starts to laugh and pauses. I beg the question: “What did Doug say?”

Through laughter and tears, he says, “He smiled and said, ‘Hmmm..and what’s their point?'”

His memorial service was a rare event: a collection of street people, former clients, MN Supreme Court Justices, a U.S. District Court Judge who began his legal career with Doug as his mentor, the founders of the American Indian Movement (“AIM”) and African American community leaders, colleagues and friends, Indian drumming, and the sounds of Paul Robeson and Old Joe Hill. The Poem “His Own True Self” opened his Memorial Celebration in Wabasha followed by these words:

We are a diverse bunch.  We are the colors of the rainbow.  We are rich and dead broke.  We are former defendants and former fellow counsel.  We are Supreme Court Justices and District Court Judges – and we are “customers” of the court system and the corrections system.  We are public defenders and prosecutors, probation officers and corrections officers, restorative justice practitioners, legislators, union organizers and people from the streets. But mostly we are just people who all share the same destiny, the same dependence and interdependence.  And no one here is to be treated with more honor than another.

Doug Hall with Sparky