A Genealogy of Gratitude

Life is short. Be grateful for what you have. Appreciate every moment. These are sentiments I have heard from many wise people, and I would agree that they are correct. Being grateful is one of the most essential mindsets for a satisfying human experience. It helps people differentiate between needs and desires, between the material and immaterial, and to value "what is" versus "what is not" or "what could be."

However, I think it’s time that we transition to a higher version of the concept of gratitude. I suggest that we aim to create a "genealogy of gratitude," (recognition that self-replicates across humanity), rather than limit the realization of the value of appreciation to an individual's unique life experience. I suggest that we start by being grateful for what we have––and then move to be thankful for the privilege of benefitting subsequent generations. Our lives are made better and more meaningful by appreciating the small things, but our collective legacy could be to raise an entire generation that acts with gratitude for what it can gift the future. 

My childhood was filled with the discussion of genealogy. My earliest memories of family gatherings include conversations about ancestors and the ties created between generations by those who accepted the responsibility to "pay it forward" and perpetuate physical practices, cosmology stories, spiritual concepts, and life philosophies. The seventh generation principle is a long-standing Native American philosophy that decisions should have beneficial results for those who are born during the next 175 years (assuming that a generation is roughly 25 years). This idea has been (over) used within various environmental campaigns to frame how we use natural resources, but its original intent was to base all decisions on the welfare of those yet unborn.

In a Native Hawaiian context (my context), the seventh generation principle is essential, but a broader sense of genealogy is more important. In ancient Hawaii, it would not have been unusual to expect someone to be able to recite their genealogy for 5, 10, 20, or more generations. In contemporary Hawaii, families may not have the same awareness of their discrete ancestors; however, they still hold their ancestors close and understand that passing on a pono legacy––one that is balanced, righteous, and true––is essential.

If a genealogy of gratitude is challenging for you to digest, another concept I use quite often is “tomorrow’s ancestor.” It is an idea I picked up from Cliff Kapono, whose website of nearly the same name (tomorrowancestor.com) offers an opportunity to peer inside the lives of a few young Hawaiians working to embody the values of their kūpuna(ancestors/elders). If we were all to live as "tomorrow's ancestors," and evaluate each of our choices and actions based on how they will affect those who will be alive in 175 years, our options might be very different then they are now. How we view, gratitude might be different as well. 

In a reflection of the US Thanksgiving holiday, I thought a great deal about #NoDPL and the protectors in North Dakota, who are assuming their kuleana (responsibility) as “tomorrow’s ancestors.” Just as my community has been working to defend Mauna Kea, one of the most sacred sites to the Native Hawaiian people, they are affirming their role as caretakers of sacred lands as well as vital natural and cultural resources. If creating a genealogy of gratitude were our goal, then this very situation is a prime example.  The people standing against the pipeline are not merely grateful for what they have today or for the resources on their lands, the #NoDPL movement is about supporting everyone whose lives are integrally tied to the resources that run along the 1172-mile route, as well as future generations. The bottom line is that any one of us can be grateful for our health, for having shelter, and enough food and clothing but still not make choices with the wellbeing of future generations in mind. 

Regardless of the reason the protectors are willing to take a stand, the point is that they are standing. They are modeling gratitude for their role and responsibility as leaders at this time in history. They are setting the stage for future generations to truly understand gratitude and to act accordingly.

Me ka haʻahaʻa,

– Naiʻa

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Naiʻa Lewis