Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Gratitude guards us against taking our many blessings for granted. We must therefore accustom ourselves to thanking G-d for every tiny blessing in our lives that might seem routine, but is actually the product of Divine Providence and G-d's infinite compassion. In this way, faith and gratitude purify and uplift our hearts.
The Silent Amidah Prayer says: “We thank you and tell your praises - for our lives that are in Your hands…” This is general thanks for our lives. “And for our souls that are deposited with You.” This is thanks for our souls, deposited in the hands of G-d, as King David writes in the Book of Psalms, “In Your hands I deposit my spirit.” After that, we thank G-d specifically for all His daily miracles: “And for Your miracles that are with us daily.” G-d does miracles every day, for everybody. It is our job to look for those miracles, thank G-d for them, write them down in a notebook so that we will remember them, and repeatedly thank Him for them. Recognizing and acknowledging Hashem's acts of loving-kindness are the basics of gratitude. Next we say: “And for Your wonders and goodness at all times, evening, morning and noon.” We have reasons to thank G-d at every moment. We must teach and accustom ourselves to thank G-d for every detail of our lives, literally at every moment, never taking His loving-kindness for granted.
The truth is that the Creator is the Master of the World and everything we have is really His. He gives us the tools we need to perform our task in this world, and He gives us the ability to use those tools. Hashem could easily not supply us with those tools, or not give us the ability to use them. If a person uses someone else's belongings, he must thank the owner for their use. Since the Almighty is the Owner of all the world's belongings, we must thank Him for everything we have. A person who fails to thank G-d or believes that any given item actually belongs to him is living in a spiritual state of heresy, theft and falsehood. Every time we use any of the material possessions at our disposal, we must remember well that we are using something that Hashem has loaned us. Consequently, He deserves our thanks.
For example, when we turn on the faucet to wash our hands, we should thank G-d for the fact that there is a faucet with running water and that we don't have to draw water from the well in the backyard or from the river half a mile away. Since when is the convenience of running water in our own home something we should take for granted? How about clothes in the closet? If every husband thanked his wife for each ironed shirt, there wouldn't be marital problems in the world.
Thanking Hashem with a general "thanks for the clothing" isn't sufficient. We should really thank Him for every item – every shirt, trousers, sweater, blouse, skirt, and pair of shoes – nothing is too small or insignificant. When your feet are cold and wet in the dead of winter from walking in a snowstorm without boots or protective covering on your shoes, you know what a blessing a dry pair of socks can be. Why take them for granted? Such is the mindset of constant gratitude to Hashem.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev worked on the attribute of gratitude even as a child. At mealtime, he wouldn't limit himself to the mandatory blessing before eating each type of food. In addition, he'd thank Hashem for every individual item: "Thank You, G-d, for the cucumber, thank You, G-d, for the tomato, thank You, G-d, for the cheese," and so forth.
What's wrong with a nice general "thank You, Hashem"? Why did Rebbe Nachman painstakingly thank Hashem for every individual item? General thanks are of course important, but they don't enhance our tangible feeling of Hashem's magnificent Divine Providence. General thanks leave us with general, abstract faith. But when we thank G-d for every detail, we really begin to feel Hashem's Divine Providence and His personal intervention in every facet of our lives. Consequently, we learn to recognize that even the most mundane items and events in our lives are none other than Hashem's loving Divine Providence over us. Just knowing that makes life ever so sweet and gives us so many reasons to be happy all day long, so start smiling!