Those of you who actively followed the music scene in the 60’s and 70’s may think for a second that I am referring to the famous rock band 🙂 and although the content of this post may have a few things in common with some Grateful Dead songs (like Friend of the Devil ;-)) , no, I am not referring to them. Today I would like to take a bit of time to talk to you about being grateful. What it is, what it means, why we may find it difficult at times to be grateful, what we have in our lives to be grateful for and yes, the question I keep asking myself when I look at today’s society – is grateful dead?!
Being Grateful When Your Day Sucks
There are days that are just perfect. You wake up with the sun tickling your face with not a worry to cloud your mind, the breeze coming in through the open window is soft and warm, all of your plans go through; you have success at work, you feel connected with your partner, you like the way you look in the mirror. On days like these it is EASY to be grateful; careful – just because it SHOULD be easy doesn’t mean that we actually ARE consciously grateful for everything nice and good in our lives; but say we did stop to reflect then yes, on days like the one described, it isn’t hard to be filled with positivity and gratitude. How common are those days? How many days out of 365 in a year do you feel stressed or under pressure, under the weather, bored, sad, depressed or just plainly “not well”? Quite a few I imagine. Can you remember one single day that shaped up like this when you stopped dead in your tracks on that negativity road, took a few deep breaths, and tried to actively turn the day around? How often did “being grateful” for something or other cross your mind?
Being grateful doesn’t come naturally to the human race. We are a conceited, self-serving selfish bunch who for reasons that I simply cannot fathom take most everything for granted. We seem to believe that we have a natural born right to be “happy” – to be safe & sound with a roof over our heads, to have enough food to fill our bellies whenever we simply feel a little twinge of appetite (not even hunger), to have comfortable means of transportation (e.g. a car), to have the comforts of the modern age like smartphones and laptops and internet access.
Of course, reality is much more differentiated than that. The above describes your average Jane or Joe in the western, civilized world. When we expand our horizon and take that look around in all neighborhoods of our cities (even the ones with the homeless shelters) and also take a look globally – this all becomes a completely different story altogether.
Did you know that in 2016 an estimated 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world (one out of nine!) were chronically undernourished – meaning that they suffer from thirst and hunger EVERY SINGLE DAY? And did you know that in 2015 an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide with as many as 1.6 billion people lacking adequate housing – meaning that one out of seven people worlwide did NOT have that safe roof over their heads and did not have a place they could call “home”? Globally, 36.7 million [34.0–39.8 million] people were living with HIV at the end of 2015 and approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data).
Shocked any? You should be. We all should be. Right now? I think most of us need to be putting on that hat of shame because we go through our lives naively and blissfully and selfishly unaware of the suffering around us and we can’t even find it in us to be GRATEFUL a minute a day for everything we have. Do you think that my take on society is too harsh? Take a look around you or just try to observe yourself on a regular day. How many times do you get annoyed? How many times do you bitch and moan when something doesn’t work out just the way you want it to? When you have to wait in line somewhere, when people bump into you on the overcrowded bus, when the food you ordered takes too long to be served or isn’t hot enough, when your neighbors infant child cries until late in the night the third night in a row?
What makes it SO difficult for us to be aware, to be grateful – or else, what makes it so incredibly easy to be so ungrateful and whiny? Well. I believe we start on that journey pretty much when we are born and we grow into it, being brought up to become exactly that. As I have pointed out in other posts, in today’s society it is a SIN to not put your precious offspring first. Children of the civilized world are pampered and coddled and from the time they can utter their pleasure or displeasure with something (even before they can actually SPEAK!) – they are given everything they want, and pronto. We learn from a very early age on to take everything for granted. That its not a question of: do I have shoes to wear? when it is below freezing out there – but a question of: which of the 15 pairs of boots or sneakers will I put on today to go with my outfit?
Be honest. How many of you ask your children daily what they want to eat? When I was a kid you ate what was put on the table and it wouldn’t have occured to us to dare say “I won’t eat that because I don’t like it”. In this day and age we adjust our dinner tables according to the wishes of the little princes and princesses.
Those are all just examples to try and understand the “nature of taught ingratefulness”…..
Why Being Grateful Has Become A Foreign Concept
I think we need to look at the idea of general ingratefulness in our society. I have already pointed out some everyday examples above – like not appreciating a car until we don’t have one or not appreciating food until we are really hungry. Being ungrateful really seems to be a quite common trait of humanity in a sense. Maybe we, as ” the People” of the western world are ungrateful for the many gifts of this earth because our behavior as a collective is designed to serve more immediate desires. To constantly have newer and trendier electronic devices, cheap but cool clothes and shoes – all at the expense of natural resources and cheap labor; or riding our cars, SUV’s and trucks ad infinitum (even to the next post box half a mile up the road!), polluting our atmosphere for the sake of our own convenience instead of diligently making efforts to use other less destructive means of transportation as a society for the longevity of the biosphere being suitable for life. Maybe when we think of what “being grateful” can be measured in, we need to look at what can actually be measured objectively in physical actions and processes. A collectives’ thoughts of living greener are of no consequence if they continue to enjoy the byproduct of destroying the planet without change for an example. Or in a relationship, having the thoughts in your head of appreciation for a loved one is quite different than sharing that in some way or another with them. Which means an additional complication – that even if we learn how to be grateful, we need to find ways to translate that subjective idea into an objective action for it to have any merrit at all.
Obviously, as I have laid out, we can be ungrateful as individuals but also as a collective whole. And it is past time that we did something about that. I believe that we all need to become more aware of everything that happens around us and take more notice both of the consequences of our actions and of the suffering going on all around us.
You may still find it difficult to think of things to be grateful for. Let me try to keep this simple for you. Let us look at a few things that I believe all of us can relate to!
- A safe roof over your head, a comfortable cozy home where you can afford the amenities of water, gas/oil and electricity
- Drinkable water – 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Feel grateful yet? Please do the next time you drink from the tap or buy a gallon of water for a few dollars
- Enough food – you never have to go hungry and mostly you can even make free choices of what you want your diet to look like
- The “small pleasures”: sunrises and sunsets. A walk in the woods or at the beach or lake. A swim in the pool, river, lake or the ocean. A warm spring day with all in bloom or a crisp fall day with the leaves coloring everything in vibrant red, yellow, and orange. The sun warming your skin. The breeze ruffling your hair. The smell of mowed grass. A campfire. A cold beer on a hot summer day. Childrens’ carefree laughter. Your pets’ unequivocal blind trust and love. Waking up and falling asleep beside the person you want to grow or have grown old with! Music, books, sports. And many many more…….
- Internet access: I still remember a time without Google when knowledge wasn’t anywhere near as easy to come by. Today you can pretty much learn everything about anything online and that is nothing short of amazing! You can develop new skills or learn about new habits to make your life easier and happier and ultimately more fulfilled. And what a miracle to be able to connect with and get to know people from all around the world!
- Friends & Family: People in your life who are there for you unconditionally. Love, support, kindness, fun, care.
- Being healthy enough to see, listen, walk, write, hug, kiss, love, think and experience your world – every day.
- The kindness of strangers – online support! Emails, comments and so on from people all over the world; someone who lets you skip ahead in the supermarket checkout line or holds the door open for you
- Being alive – like all of us, I am sure that you have been in situations where an accident and being in the wrong place at the wrong time could have meant you would have ceased to exist. Be grateful because you are here. You have this moment. And the next. And the one after that. You breathe, your heart beats, you think, you love and you are loved. How absolutely amazing is that?
- God or a Higher Spirit. Whether you are a religious person or an atheist, believe in an afterlife, in reincarnation, quantum physics or the relativity of space & time – I think most of us can agree on the fact that there is someone or something “higher” and more powerful than humankind, something that exists far beyond our intellectual grasp. Humankind exists. And someone or something is watching over us. We may not always see reason or why things happen as they do but – I, for one, am grateful!
I hope that after you have read this post you will start to think a little more, reflect a little more and hopefully start being a little more grateful. I would love for you to take the time to think of 5 things that you are grateful for every morning while you get ready for your day. I promise you that it will make you feel more positive and it will have a great influence on your mood!
Last but not least I would LOVE to hear from you all – what you think about my take on matters, what YOU are grateful for in your lives and whether or not you agree with me! So please please please leave a comment below! 🙂
Thanks so much again for reading