I have heard it said that Gratitude is the act of letting go of what one thinks one’s life ought to be and celebrating what it already is. Charles Dickens wrote:
Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
Yet how many of us have found it difficult to be grateful about the bountiful blessings we have in our lives when we have spent our time and attention focusing on those things we do not have? I don’t mean that we ought not note those areas of our lives where we are dissatisfied and unfulfilled leaving them to fester and rot away a hole in our souls. By all means, we should actively choose to pursue change and growth in our lives whenever possible, but I speak in the sense of that which money cannot buy rather than material possessions, things such as relationships, mindsets, habits, health, joy, peace, faith, and hope. There is something to be said for the fact that we tend to take a great deal for granted in our lives:
We have food, water, shelter, and safety…
There are millions the world over ~ men, women, and children of every race, creed, color, and religion ~ who do not.
We have access to medicine and education…
While others across the globe have no access to the most basic medical advice and knowledge, suffering from diseases that have all but been eliminated in first world nations through education and basic healthcare.
We are not owned by another human being and we have the opportunity to pursue our own happiness in life, whatever that may look like…
Yet human trafficking and sexual slavery are alive and well even in our first world nations.
As a woman, I can choose to be married or not, have children or not, have a high stakes career or not, own property or not, be educated or not. My destiny is my own…
Yet there are women and girls in this world who do not get to choose who they will marry or when, whether they will have their genitals mutilated or not and therefore whether they will ever be able to enjoy intercourse or not, whether they will have children and how many, if they will have a career outside their home, if they want to own property or a business rather than if they themselves are property, and whether they will have an education.
Men in the world have the choice to pursue the same careers their fathers did or something else, where they will live, who they will marry, whether they will be a warrior, a poet, or both…
But there are men in this world who became soldiers as children, being forced to kill their own family members as children so they themselves would not be killed, men who watched or participated in the rape and murder of others because to not do so would be counted as a crime and would put their family at risk, men who have been told who to marry and what career they must pursue.
Most of us have infinitely more in our lives than most of humanity has had for most of history and yet I cannot help but feel that we somehow as a society have far less Gratitude than our forebears. Maybe it is that we have so much at our fingertips that we have forgotten what it is to want or to strive to survive. Perhaps it is because so much is already provided for that we have the luxury to pursue so many material possessions and worldly experiences. I don’t know.
What I do know is that despite being so advanced that there is little machines cannot do for us, despite no longer having an industrial and agricultural basis for our economy and instead having an increasingly intellectual market, we get less sleep and have less time with our families than our ancestors did in the Middle Ages. We don’t burn people at the stake for being heretics and we don’t hang people for witchcraft anymore. We know what germs are and how to treat illnesses that once were lethal. Our idea of an *outbreak* of a disease is a dozen or more people contracting an illness as opposed to a third of the population dropping dead. Huzzah!
What I know is that while we now ensure all children have access to a free public education and that child labor is outlawed in our society, children are increasingly strapped with the pressure of high stakes achievement and academic rigors, taking away their free time and the innocence of childhood. What good have we done for our children in mandating education that they are not developmentally prepared for to the exclusion of childhood play and exploration? When will the labor of academia that keeps children from having time to have relationships with their parents and to play be recognized as a labor that, too, should be restricted?
What I know that while our knowledge of the human body and disease has grown exponentially in the last century, and while life expectancy is much higher than it has ever been before, the quality of life we have may not be proportionally increased. After all, what is the use of living if one is alone due to a lifetime of work rather than a lifetime of love? What is worth living for if not for love?
What I propose is the mindfulness of habitually choosing and seeking Gratitude in the blessings in our lives, and what better time to begin than during what in America is the season of Thanksgiving?