Food for Thought
Keeping Gratitude in Your Back Pocket
It is holiday season in America. For the majority of Americans, a different kind of joy, excitement, stress, and challenge will fill the coming weeks. I am going to guess that when the stressors and challenges show up, many of us will have a hard time welcoming them.
Last month I wrote about how we can make this time of year easier on ourselves as it relates to food and holiday gatherings. This month, let’s look at another way to ease our self-inflicted tensions. This month, let’s talk about gratitude.
Gratitude is defined a few different ways:
1) a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation (vocabulary.com)
2) a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals–whether to other people, nature, or a higher power” (Harvard Medical School)
3) the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation (Sansone & Sansone, 2010).
Regardless of your definition, showing gratitude for even the smallest things can make a real difference. According to Positive Psychology, gratitude can help us keep our problems and upsets in perspective, putting a platinum lining on dark clouds. I look at gratitude as having an extra $200 in my pocket. It gives me a whole different point of view when I am out and about running life’s errands.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that our friend Joe lost his job. As a result, he couldn’t afford his mortgage and had to move into a small studio apartment. Let’s say Joe’s new apartment has no cable TV or internet access. On top of that, Joe lost his phone and his car because he couldn’t afford to pay for them either. Now he has to walk or take a bus to get from place to place. Joe has started getting government assistance from food stamps and Medicaid to cover his medical bills. Joe also goes to the local food pantry or soup kitchen daily. Joe feels like he is going through pretty tough times. If I found myself in Joe’s position, I would have a significant adjustment to make. Some people might even feel like their world was ending if they were in this situation.
Ok. Ready for a different perspective?
Well, a couple of months ago, I went to Kenya, Africa. Kenya is a beautiful country with amazing landscapes. It is home to big animals like elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, zebras, and wildebeests. Kenya is also trying to shed its third world shackles. One of its challenges is a lack of adequate transportation, housing, and clean water.
These are pictures of a tin shack slum located adjacent to the capital city, Nairobi. It is called an “urban unofficial settlement.” Adults move into settlements like this when they are looking for work or a better opportunity. In Kenya, about 2 million people of all ages live in unofficial settlements like this. This one holds about 1.1 million people of all ages. Official estimates say that only 5% of the residents here have access to running water, toilets, or electricity. Oh, and these are rental properties. Yes, rental properties, meaning the inhabitant is there by choice.
They are also subject to rent increases and evictions. The average length of stay for a person in one of these units is 11.5 years. Let that sink in. The residents are choosing to rent a corrugated tin shack with a dirt floor, without plumbing or electricity for 11.5 years. One more thing. There is NO government assistance for anyone.
Even on a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day in America, no one lives like this. Well, not legally anyway. Especially not while paying a landlord. Not even for two years, never mind 11. From this new perspective, suddenly, the thought of living in a small studio apartment with running water and a bathroom and taking a bus seems doable. Our friend, Joe, could actually be grateful for the roof over his head, the water that he uses to bathe, and the food he gets from the soup kitchen. With an attitude of gratitude, Joe could choose to work to improve his situation and see gains every day. The bottom line is that Joe’s point of view is the only difference between him being devastated by or appreciative of his current circumstances. His perspective will have a corresponding effect on what he does in his situation. His point of view is what makes the situation unbearably bad or unbelievably good.
In America, the same is true of our access to food, public education, basic health care, and the right to vote. In America, and just about every other 1st world country, we have rights to some of our basic necessities and access to most. This is not the case in many countries in the world.
Being appreciative of what we usually take for granted is one way of decreasing our stress, increasing our joy quotient, and opening our eyes to the opportunities that surround us.
We can have fun with this, so let’s play a game! I am going to challenge you. For the next 30 days, find something for which you can be grateful and find a way to show your gratitude for it.
Every day for the next 30 days, look at the gratitude practice suggestions below to help sharpen our skills for appreciating the people, animals, and things in our lives that we may not usually value. If you start with the first practice today, it will carry you into the new year. Simply “hover” over the day to see the practice.
Part 1 – Notes to Self
Part 2 – Notes to Others You May Not Know
Part 3 – Notes to People You Care About
Part 4 – Notes to People Who Challenge You
Part 5 – One More Note to Self
Use the comment form to let us know how practicing gratitude affects you and the people around you. Tells us about your breakthroughs, aha moments, and surprises! We would love to hear from you.