S is for Brother David Steindl-Rast: The Joy of Gratitude

The root of joy is gratefulness … It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

There are now many books that focus on gratitude. These often mention the life and work of Brother David Steindl-Rast.

As a young man he travelled from Germany to the United States to find riches. Reflecting back in later years, he explained that he found riches of a different kind. He says:

“What we really want is joy. We don’t want things.”

Writing in Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer, he explains:

“Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.”

“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy – because we will always want to have something else or something more.”

This approach reinforces the research about happy people. Such people choose to: “Count their blessings, rather than count their burdens.”

They focus on what they can do, rather than worry about what they can’t do. This provides them with the strength to encourage other people.

You can discover more about the work of Brother David and his colleagues at the following site.



Brother David was born in Vienna, Austria in 1926. He studied art, anthropology and psychology, before going on to get a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna. He emigrated to the United States in 1953.

Looking back on this time, Brother David remembers being asked about what would be his perfect life. He answered that he felt drawn to the calling of living a certain kind of monastic life.

The person who asked the question knew of such a monastery that had just been established. This was the Mount Saviour Benedictine community in Elmira, New York.

Brother David visited the monastery and immediately felt at home. He took time to reflect, but then returned to Mount Saviour. He has now been there for over 50 years.

He recalls that, in the early days, the monks had to put up sheets to cover the beds, as they shared the barn with doves.

During the winter months it got a little windy, he says. This was fine for a time, but then the Brothers moved into a more substantial house.

In 1967, after many years of monastic training and studies in philosophy and theology, Brother David was sent by his abbot to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue. He studied under several Zen teachers and, in 1968, co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies in 1968.

This led to him receiving the 1975 Martin Buber Award for building bridges between religious traditions. You can discover more about this period of his life the following link.

Since then Brother David has divided his time between living the monastic life, writing books and speaking to groups across the world. This work has also reached a wider audience with the advent of the web site devoted to gratefulness.

Gratitude: Philosophy and Books

Brother David has written many books on gratitude, love and building on common ground. These include Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, A Listening Heart and Words of Common Sense.

He has also co-written The Music of Silence, with Sharon Lebell, and The Ground We Share: Buddhist and Christian Practice, co-authored with Robert Aitken Roshi. Together with Fritjof Capra, he co-authored Belonging to the Universe, a dialogue on new paradigm thinking in science and theology.

Reviewing his book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An approach to life in fullness, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat say:

“Steindl-Rast conveys the multiple meanings of the spiritual practice of gratefulness, which he defines as ‘the inner gesture of giving meaning to our life by receiving life as a gift.’

“It is a basic attitude that begins with surprise – the sight of a rainbow or a narrow escape from death – and opens the door to joy.

“Being thankful to God involves waking up to the blessings all around us.

“Steindl-Rast sees gratefulness as the linchpin of a devotional life that is animated by faith, lifted by hope, and nurtured by love.”


Setbacks and Opportunities

“But what about setbacks and tragedies?” a person might ask. “Surely we shouldn’t be grateful for these.”

Brother David agrees, but he believes it is important to see these as an opportunity. Speaking to Kate Olson of the Public Broadcasting Service, he provides the following guidance, which you can find at this link.


We cannot be grateful for war, it is an evil, says Brother David. Nor can we be grateful for exploitation or an untimely death. But there are things we can do to learn from these situations.

Looking at the world today, many people are concerned about crises and challenges. Within these situations, however, lie the seeds of opportunity.

In the midst of a personal crisis, we often count our blessings and focus on what is really important in life. In the midst of an ‘economic crisis’, we can look at what we really mean by quality of life. In the midst of an ecological crisis, we can look at how to maintain and care for our beautiful world.

During the interview on PBS, Brother David goes on to say that:

“Count your blessings and you will find them to be countless, even in the midst of adversity and tragic circumstances.”

Appreciating our assets at times of crisis can help us to appreciate life. We all have peak experiences when we experience a sense of ‘being one with all,’ he says. These are the times when we feel truly alive.

Sometimes these moments come from being happy, sometimes from being sad. It is during such moments – such moments of epiphany – that we can clarify what is really important in life. We can then focus on how to honour life. Brother David again emphasises:

“What we really want is joy. We don’t want things.’

Gratitude helps to develop our inner strength and sow positive seeds in the world.

Be Sociable, Share!

3 comments to S is for Brother David Steindl-Rast: The Joy of Gratitude

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>