Recognizing the Blessings in Our Lives: A Conversation with Ruchi Koval
Judaism shares the story of Chana, a woman who struggled with infertility and prayed to G-d for a child. When she finally gave birth to her son, Samuel, she responded with a heartfelt prayer of gratitude. Interestingly, only her words of gratitude — and not her cries for a child — were ultimately recorded in the Torah. In our conversation with JWRP Trip Leader Ruchi Koval, she shares why gratitude is central to the Jewish people, as well as strategies for showing gratitude even during challenging times.
What is gratitude and why is it a Jewish value?
In Hebrew, Hakarat Hatov is loosely translated as gratitude, but literally means recognizing the good in our lives. Judaism believes that gratitude starts with an awareness of our blessings. When we have this awareness, we can express our gratitude to everyone responsible for those blessings — G-d, our parents, our spouse, our friends, and our community, for example.
When our matriarch, Leah, gave birth to her fourth son, she named him Judah, which means, “thank you.” The word, Judaism, contains the same root as the name, Judah, reminding us to be grateful for the good in our lives.
How can gratitude enhance our lives?
I believe that happiness is a choice. It’s always easier to complain than to thank someone. When we stub our toe, we’re conscious of the pain that we feel in that toe instead of feeling grateful for our nine pain-free toes. Saying things like, “Ugh, it’s Monday,” “Just my luck,” or “No good deed goes unpunished,” will lead us to feeling more unhappy. But if we decide to become aware of the good in our lives, then we will become happier people. When one thing isn’t going well, we can think of the three that are. Then, we’ll allow ourselves to revel in the good.
How can we choose gratitude even in difficult circumstances?
In the midst of a difficult time, our tendency to overlook the good and notice only the bad is heightened. We may feel like G-d is picking on us. When our son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I experienced a very difficult time. But then we reminded ourselves that we were so fortunate, too; our son can go to school and he can do so much by himself. We also have six kids who can communicate with ease. No matter how intense your struggle, it’s important to mine for the positive aspects in your life in order to weather life’s storms.
How can we help foster a sense of gratitude in our children?
When our children are young, make gratitude practices a part of your day-to-day life. At my family’s Friday night dinner, each family member mentions one person they’re grateful to and why. This tradition creates an awareness for the good in their lives and brings family members closer together. In my home, we also encourage practices that show gratefulness for food. When my children finish eating, they know that they must thank the person responsible for their meal, clean up after themselves, and say thank you to G-d. As children become older, they learn by example. Be a role model by expressing gratitude openly and often to your spouse, parents, and children.
What are a few practices that can support us in appreciating our blessings?
There’s always a risk of making a gratitude practice more rote than intentional. So, each morning, I mention aloud what I am thankful for that day. For example, I’ll say that I am thankful for the sunshine or having a job that I love or because my daughter cleaned the kitchen last night. Expressing my gratitude in a very personal way helps me begin my day with a positive intention. When I light the Shabbat candles, I not only ask G-d for the things that I want, but I also thank G-d for all of the good that happened in the past week. Make your expressions of gratitude a part of your schedule. Amidst the busyness and stresses of daily life, gratitude practices will add so much positivity, too.