by Pavithra Mehta, Yes! magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/a-yes-invitation-join-us-in-a-21-day-challenge-to-express-gratitude-every-day
Pavithra Mehta wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions.
Pavithra is a co-architect of ServiceSpace.org and one of the creative forces behind KindSpring.org.
She is also the co-author of Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World's Greatest Business Case for Compassion.
Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu; a place
where the meal is served as a gift by volunteers, and at the end of it
guests receive a bill for a total of $0.00.
The bill comes with a note that explains their meal was a gift from
someone who came before them.
If they wish to pay it forward, they can
make a contribution for someone who comes after them and help keep the
This restaurant is called Karma Kitchen - and it actually exists. And over the years, running this pay-it-forward restaurant has taught us at KindSpring.org a great deal about gratitude.
It baffles people to know that Karma Kitchen has no tracking
systems - we don’t monitor how much individual tables receive and how much
they give. Instead, we just focus on giving everyone a genuine
experience of generosity.
When we started in 2007 in Berkeley, Calif., we had no idea whether
we would sink or float. But more than six years later Karma Kitchen is
still going strong. It has served more than 30,000 meals and now has
chapters in half a dozen cities around the world. And it is all
sustained by gratitude.
Karma Kitchen works on the deceptively simple premise that the heart
that fills, spills. The nature of gratitude is to overflow its banks and
circulate. It does not stand still. But remove that ineffable quality
from the equation, and the virtuous cycle breaks down.
The sociologist Georg Simmel called gratitude "the moral memory of
mankind." It serves to connect us to each other in small, real, and
Remove it from the fabric of our lives, and all relationship
becomes an endless series of soulless transactions. We become more
prone to a sense of entitlement and less available to a sense of life’s
wonder and mystery.
But when we receive something as a gift as opposed
to a purchase, we drop out of our patterns of constant calculation. We
step out of the realm of price tags and into the realm of the priceless.
This is an important shift.
What gratitude has taught us
At Karma Kitchen, the fact that there is no way to know who in the
chain before you paid for your meal - and no way of knowing who exactly
will receive your contribution - makes it quietly revolutionary. It gently
shakes people out of our habitual quid pro quo mindset.
It is a system
that transcends any one person’s control and invites trust in the cycle
of the whole. Gratitude is what bolsters the spirit to take that leap of
In this context every contribution becomes an act of profound
trust. That kind of trust builds a web of resilience. It is what turns a
group of people into an actual community.
Another lesson we’ve learned at Karma Kitchen is that there is a
subtle but important difference between interactions dictated by a sense
of obligation or guilt and those that are catalyzed by gratitude.
obligation or guilt there is a sense of indebtedness. It is a
disempowering state. Gratitude is the opposite. It is a feeling with
wings, joyful and spirited. And, paradoxically, it is the act of
receiving with gratitude that puts us back in touch with our own
boundless capacity to give.
Gratitude is a creative state. At Karma Kitchen, guests and
volunteers alike have illustrated this fact in myriad ways.
to the monetary contributions from guests that keep the wheels of the
restaurant turning, Karma Kitchen has witnessed thousands of other
spontaneous offerings - everything from songs, poems, and artwork to
exquisite magazines and inspiring DVDs that are made available to all on
our "Kindness Table."
But perhaps even more important than what transpires at the
restaurant is what happens outside its walls.
Gratitude does not
recognize strict boundaries, and once ignited it asserts itself in the
rhythm of our daily lives. It makes us kinder and more compassionate,
more willing and ready to act on our impulses for good.
guest-turned-volunteer put it, “I’ve realized Karma Kitchen has turned
me into the kind of person who now stops when I see someone with a flat
tire on the highway.”
Cooking Up Karma: A Taste of the Gift Economy
There’s more to it. Science is now showing us that gratitude can
positively influence our health, happiness, energy levels, and
longevity. A growing number of studies indicate that gratitude is a
muscle that can be exercised and built up.
Simple interventions like
maintaining a journal of what you're thankful for have been demonstrated
to have a deep impact. The key lies in sharpening our awareness and
tuning in to the gifts that we hold in each moment.
So this November, KindSpring.org and YES! Magazine
are launching a 21-Day Gratitude Challenge.
Thousands of people across
the world have already signed up and committed to a daily practice of
gratitude every day for 21 days straight, culminating on Thanksgiving
Day. When you join us, you join a community that shares insights, support, and experiences as we take on this journey together.
Karma Kitchen has taught us repeatedly that gratitude is not inert.
It does not sit at the bottom of the lake like a pebble and daydream. It
rises like a small sun and shines forth without scheming. And, like a
sun, it gives and makes things grow.
Next week, let's rise and shine together - with gratitude.