When I was growing up I really thought I had it rough. My parents divorced when I was two years old and then settled on opposite sides of the United States, so I spent holidays and vacations flying back and forth and missing whichever parent I wasn’t with. There were different rules, some easier to adjust to than others, but I was loved, I took food and clothing for granted and while we were not rich I wanted for nothing that mattered.
It wasn’t until I graduated from college and got out on my own that I fully realized just how spoiled I was. I began teaching and quickly realized that there are many, many people out there who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they don’t have clean clothes to wear, they may not even have a consistent roof over their heads. It was then that I began a ritual of calling my parents and thanking them for “being mean, having rules and teaching me to be responsible.” I was seeing firsthand what it looked like when kids were raised without those things.
For the first time in my life I realized how much I had to be truly grateful for.
This is the fourth installment in a series following the Six Medicines of Bodhichristo, with our first installment being about living for today, our second installment being about not allowing anger to control your life, and out third being about the importance of not giving in to constant worry. In this edition we’re going to talk about having an attitude of gratitude, even though you may not immediately recognize what you have to be thankful for.
Our culture loves to keep us on focused on the things we don’t have, the things our neighbors have and the things we “need” or “deserve.” I long ago cut the cable that brought commercials into my house, but I have no doubt the predatory commercialism is still in full force – especially at Christmas. This ever-present background noise is one of the biggest threats to our inner peace, and it pushes us harder and harder to want/need more and more.
One of the most curious things in American culture is the need for storage rooms. I see them everywhere, so the demand must be quite high. So we have so much stuff that we can’t fit it all in our closets, attics and sheds? We have so much stuff that we need to spend $37.5 billion – yes BILLION – annually on storage units???
Perhaps it is time to unclutter our lives, first by jettisoning anything we haven’t used or even seen in the last year (allowing for seasonal decorations, etc), and in so doing free up some of the time we’re using to amass those useless things. Do you find yourself saying you don’t have time to exercise, to meditate, or even to spend quality time with your kids? Maybe the extra job you’re working or the extra hours you put in so you can afford bigger, better stuff could be repurposed in ways that matter a great deal more than keeping up with the Joneses.
In other words, take stock in your life and be grateful for what you have.
No matter where you are on life’s journey, you have plenty to be thankful for. Yes, you probably have things you wish were different, but focusing on those things does not benefit you in any way. You obviously have internet if you’re reading this, so that’s something to be grateful for (I think!). If you have a roof over your head, food to eat, and clothes to wear it puts you miles ahead of 36% of the people in the world. According to WorldVision.org, 1.89 billion people live in “extreme poverty,” and nearly half of the people who live in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less. Think about that the next time you stop at Starbuck’s for a $7 cup of coffee.
The fact that you can actually pay $7 for a cup of coffee means you are among the wealthiest people in the world, statistically speaking. Be grateful for that.
Next, try thinking about the people in your life. Maybe it’s your parents, though not everyone had great parents and many have lost their parents. My parents are alive and well though they’re pushing 80, and for that I am eternally grateful. Maybe it’s your family – brothers, sisters, cousins, etc. I have amazing sisters and cousins who are like brothers and sisters to me, not to mention their children, who are constantly messaging my own amazing, wonderful, beautiful daughter on one app or another. They warm my heart! I am also grateful for my best friends, who constantly prove that sometimes water is as thick as blood. If I were to be in a desperate situation I have friends I can call upon who will drop what they’re doing and come immediately, and they know I would do the same for them. I am grateful beyond words for my friends!
What do you have to be grateful for? For some it should be quite easy to make a list like the one I made above. For some it might be more of a challenge, but I promise you that focusing on what you have and being grateful for it is a path to peacefulness and enlightenment. Focusing on want and need will just drive you crazy.
Start with today! What are you grateful for? Christmas music, holiday movies, a break from work, maybe a drive through a neighborhood filled with Christmas lights? Take stock of your life. Focus on a spirit of gratefulness. I think you’ll find you have more to be grateful for than you might even know if you really think about it!