Its a big word, and like many big words, it has become diluted through mis-use by all kinds of motivational and spiritual experts. so perhaps it is appropriate to attempt to reclaim it’s true potency.
It is often said that the character of a person is shaped defined by the challenges he or she has faced. But that is only half the story. The other half is the things that they do not have to face.
I am reminded constantly of this, and you can too. It is simple, just pay attention to those around you.
For example the semi-trailer rig that stood near stood near a local shop this morning: it had a spoiler engraved with white calligraphy words “RIP ZAC” followed by dates. Those dates told me that Zac was 16 when he died. Perhaps this was his father’s truck.
Or a conversation I had yesterday afternoon with a good friend who some years ago was hit by a car and knocked off his bicycle, sustaining nearly fatal physical and some brain injuries. When we talk, I can sense that his world has different limits to mine, and the challenges that I take for granted are sometimes mountains for him.
Or closer to home, our hot-water unit broke, and for a few days we were inconvenienced with hot water rations until it was replaced. This may sound trivial, but we must not take for granted the privileged circumstances that we live in. I mean we as inclusive of you, reading this, and I, writing this.
Every day we wake up in a world where we are faced with challenges. But we also awake into a world where we are spared some pretty severe challenges. Here are some of them:
- We do not walk two or more hours to collect a drum of water and then walk for two more hours to cook, or perhaps wash ourselves or our baby.
- We do not wash our only items of clothing by hand every few days.
- We do not go hungry simply because we have no access to enough food.
- We do not require (at least not yet) someone to assist us to move around, or perhaps are dependent on a machine in order to stay alive.
- We do not need to constantly flee from frequent violent attacks, and have to hide to stay safe, or keep ourselves and our families alive.
- We may not need to mind what is in our food, least we have an allergic reaction that could kill us.
The reason I have made this list, is because I know people whom I respect and admire who have fought or are fighting some of these battles. But the point I wish to make is simple: the list of things that you do not have to deal with is far longer than the troubles that you do have to deal with. And with absolute certainty someone you know is dealing with something that if it were on your list of challenges would crush you.
What does this have to do with gratitude? It’s this: as we wake each day we face challenges that consume us, they are the essence of our day. We curse, we stress, we perhaps let them colour our mood, tarnish how we deal with ourselves, and how we deal with others. How often do we stop to consider what it is that we are being spared from?
Perhaps this is the question we should begin each day with. It is enough to change your perspective, enough to create a genuine deep sense of gratitude for the challenges that face you. It is this deep gratitude that makes it possible for us to take those challenges on with eagerness instead of reluctance, with energy instead of fatigue, with joy instead of resentment, and with courageous authority instead of fear.
Knowing this, and acting on this power is the true essence of gratitude. It is far to rare, but fortunately it is also highly contagious.