It’s funny where gifts can come from sometimes. A friend of mine has had a few pretty challenging years—you know, big stuff. Serious health concerns, bigger than average job stresses, all while she’s had to deal with some big family issues like death and dementia. Life is like a card game and right how she’s in the midst of a run of less-than-easy hands to play. And then she got her gift.
The strange part was, the guy who gave her the gift has next to nothing himself. He was on TV. He was there to try and raise money to be sent to people like him, but instead he gave her a gift. She was trying to get caught up on some overdue paperwork and to get her kitchen cleaned and in her head she was adding up all of the balls she was juggling. The more she entertained the thoughts of how busy she was, the more things she remembered. By the time she noticed the guy on the TV she was getting pretty low about her situation. And then she saw his.
Of course, if the guy’s on a program like that then he’s a representative of that huge section of the world’s population that is just happy to have made it from one day to the next. This guy was a 12 hour a day rickshaw driver with no health care, a government hostile to his existence, no financial security net of any kind, and he had to provide for numerous children who he loved very much. Those were the facts of his life but he still beamed with gratitude. His walls may have been made of whatever was available and his meals might be meagre, but he remained grateful that his family was together and that he had any shelter at all.
My friend’s initial reaction was guilt—she had so much compared to this guy and yet she was sitting there complaining. But the guilt quickly turned to questions. Why was this guy so happy when he had so little? She watched him talk about his life a little longer. It turned out it’s because he wasn’t paying any attention at all to what was missing or what would make life easier. He only accounted for his good fortune. Yes, the hands with bad cards were there—but to him that was just life. He focused on when he won. In the end this poor have-nothing guy gave my upper middle class friend a huge gift. It was like he uncovered all of the things in her life that she had been taking for granted.
It’s a cliche, so people always brush past it too quickly, but it’s worth your time: how exactly are you more fortunate than someone in a third world country? This can seem like a chore to calculate until you do like my friend did and realize that it’s not mythical—you do have a lot to be thankful for, and your life is better when you’re consciously aware of it. Having a full belly or a healthy family or the support of good friends—these are all gigantic things when they are missing.
The act of taking something or somebody for granted is easy for all of us to do. It simply means that we have ceased to think about the benefit we receive—it is presumed. It’s not that the value isn’t there—it’s just that you’ve stopped counting it. You’ve stopped adding it up.
It’s a natural progression that we would move from gratitude to complacency and back again—one needs the other to exist. But we are still better to spend as much time in a state of gratitude as possible. Because if we live like that, then it’s possible for a super-poor guy to give my rich Canadian friend a valuable gift.
Spend less time today thinking about your own plights. No matter how difficult things are, do your best to consider the challenges of the people around you. The insults they would face, the physical challenges, hunger, the constraints of poverty, or even just being cold, or sleeping without a mattress let alone a roof….
The odds are if you’re reading this then you’re probably better off than at least half the planet if not 98% of it. So rather than tell yourself and others about the 10% of your life that genuinely does suck, focus more on the 90% that doesn’t. And do that selfishly. Because sitting there at her kitchen table my friend’s life hadn’t changed one bit from an hour earlier. But still that third world guy managed to help her feel like one of the richest people ever. And you can feel that way too.
Make today a day where you earnestly pursue gratitude as an objective in your life. Make it a priority. Make that a habit and you will absolutely have changed your life. Now go create a great day with your choice of what you focus on. Because that’s the only place great days ever really came from anyway.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.