Cultivating the Mind – Be Thankful and Be Happy

[Cultivating the Mind]

Be Thankful and Be Happy

Lei Zhong and Kathy Chan

September 2007, Randy Pausch, a professor at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University dying of pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture. Thanks to the Internet, the lecture was immediately viewed by millions worldwide and turned into a phenomenon. (the full lecture can be viewed at:,, or Wall Street Journal Videos). President George W. Bush sent Randy a letter (see the photo copy) to express his thanks to him for being “helped to uplift the hearts of millions of Americans.”

On July 25th, 2008, Randy’s life journey ended and left us a lasting legacy. But what have we learned from his story? What message have we received about life from his passing? What has Randy done to uplift the hearts of so many people?

Randy loved life. He was dedicated to his career and had the passion to pursue his dreams and fulfillment in life. Most of all, he had a heart full of thanks. He thanked his parent for giving him the chance to grow up with freedom and dreams. He thanked his teachers and mentors who guided him with encouragement. He thanked his students for what he learned from them. Facing his terminal sentence, Randy chose to be peacefully reconciled by an approach that gave love to his family without any regrets or complaints about life. He is thankful to life for making him who he is.

“The strong character you have displayed has set a fine example for others, and your courage and determination are an inspiration to all.” President Bush said in his letter to Randy. How has Randy really inspired us?

It was the choice to be thankful that made Randy a positive thinker, a lover and dedicated giver, a life challenger, and above all, a role model to all of us.

Everyone faces setbacks in life; so did Randy. But how we deal with these setbacks is what makes people live very different lives. “Brick walls (the setbacks of life) are there for a reason.” Randy talked about this many times. To him, the reason is that “you need to show and prove how badly you will try to get over the other side.” Accepting reality and overcoming our personal limits is a choice in life.

Randy left three young children at ages six, three and one. As parents, we can sympathize with his pain. He won’t see his kids grow up, he won’t see their graduations and weddings, and he will miss all the happy moments of their lives. But Randy chose not to think from an “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t” perspective, but from the “they won’t, they won’t, they won’t” point of view to understand how tough his family’s lives will be without his participation. “I’m focused more on what they’re going to lose than on what I’m going to lose.” So, he responsibly managed his limited time to give as much as possible to his family.

“I can’t change the cards in my hand, but I can choose the way I play them.”

“I have fun every day I have left, because there’s no other way to play it.”

“A part of me does feel fortunate that I didn’t get hit by the proverbial bus.”

Being thankful made Randy a person of no fear, no regrets, no anger, and no limit.

While I am deeply moved by reading Randy’s story, I am also most impressed by a short Chinese story from the Internet that attracted my attention because it helped me to understand more of the meaning of ‘be thankful’. Being thankful may be a choice of many people in life to treat others, but do we have the awareness to be thankful to our loved ones in our daily lives?

The short story tells that, one day a young girl had a terrible argument with her mother and she ran away upset. She roamed the streets for hours until night fall. She started to feel hungry but she didn’t have a single penny in her pocket. What to do? She thought. It is too shameful to go back home this way. By pure chance, she looked around and found a small noodle stand on the street corner. She walked up to the stand, smelled the noodles, and gulped hungrily. The owner of the noodle stand asked her: “Would you like to have a bowl of noodle soup?” The girl said: “Yes, I would like to, but, well, I just don’t have any money for it.” The owner looked at the girl while she gulped again. “Take one, it’s my treat.” The owner got a big bowl of noodles and gave it to the girl.

At first, the girl was very surprised and then she immediately took the bowl of noodle soup. While she was stuffing her face with noodles she said: “Hey, mister, you are a very nice man.” “Why do you say so?” “I’m nobody to you, but you treated me to a bowl of noodles for free. Thank you!” The owner smiled. “Miss, I only treated you to one bowl of noodle soup. You know, your mom treated you so many years for free, she is the person that you should be thanking.”

The girl looked at the owner as if she suddenly woke up from a dream. She quickly put away the noodle bowl and ran back home. Just as she turned onto her street, she saw her mom at the corner looking for her impatiently. Thousands of “I’m sorry” rose up her throat but her pouring tears kept her speechless. “Where have you been? You would’ve caught a cold if you didn’t come back, you know. Dinner has been ready for a while and everyone is waiting for you.” The girl’s mom held her hand and walked her home.

We all may have had similar experiences in life just like this girl, and like her take these kinds of offerings daily from our loved ones for granted without the slightness awareness that we are being loved, cared for, or helped. So, we just took these gifts and even complained because we wanted something else or something more! Yes, when the day is bright enough we never feel that we need the sun and we forget that it is the sun that lights up our days.

If we become aware of how much our families give, love, care, and support us daily and we express our thanks to our loved ones such as moms, dads, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, we will find that our daily lives are full of love or beauty. Most of all, this love and beauty grows every day of our lives when we practice being thankful.

From both Randy’s and the young Chinese girl’s stories, we understand that being thankful will keep us in a positive thinking mode and focus our attention on appreciating what we have and get rather than what we don’t have or don’t get. Being thankful allows us to accept the reality that we are facing without complaining, refusing, or escaping. Being thankful lets us forgive the mistakes made by others without fear, regret, or indignation of others or ourselves. Being thankful permits us to open our eyes and hearts to look forward searching for what we can create in the future instead of just looking backward on what we’ve lost or missed in the past. Being thankful helps us to bring healthy and happy relationships with others. Being loved by others can help us to achieve better well being.

There is one very important aspect that we must not forget. That is being thankful to our self. We live in societies that mainly emphasize on external matters and experiences whether it is with material objects, personal or group achievements, or relationships. Therefore, we tend to neglect our “inner” selves. In doing so, we are creating an imbalance, between our inner and outer world, which is the underlying cause for illness, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. We can attain this balance by taking care of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self and be thankful to them for allowing us to fully enjoy the wonderful experience in life.

Being thankful to all creations helps to build up our confidence and faith in life, and find meanings and reasons for living. It is the true state of mind for happiness in life and brings us inner peace.

Life is a journey. This journey is filled with colorful opportunities and possibilities. During this journey, we can’t stop time but we can change the way we spend our time. We can’t change when life ends but we can choose to enjoy every moment of our lives.

So, let us be thankful. Life is so beautiful and we have no reason to not be happy, enjoy it and learn from it.


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