The sky is beautiful. The thought hit me as I sauntered down a well-worn path as the sun began its steady descent, in the late evening of an early May morning. It felt like a new discovery but then I understood that it was not. It was simply the first time in a long time I had paid attention enough to the sky to notice its beauty. I had taken its presence for granted, with the belief that it was the sky after all. It would always be there, and it sure did not need my appreciation.
“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
How many other things do we overlook daily? Whether it is family or friends, being healthy or having a shelter over our heads, we have grown into unobservant people who do not pay attention to most things. We overlook or do not even notice that we are alive — full of life — amidst the turmoil of our daily existence. We are always coming from someplace or going to some other place, talking to someone or planning some event. It gets difficult to just stop and take in our surroundings, appreciate the moment, the breath you are taking in, the friends made and lost, family near and distant, opportunities taken and not taken and every other thing between.
I think we get so bothered about how the future would be that we lose sight of the present. No, not the troubles and challenges; those we keep at the forefront of our minds and always say “if only things were better” or “if only I had that car”, as though those things were sure recipes for fulfillment. What we lose sight of are the blessings of the present, the many things we do have, the people in our lives, the job we have, the air we breathe, our functioning eyes and bodies.
“We had to learn ourselves that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly.” — Viktor Frankl
We take these for granted because although we see those who lack some or all of these, it is difficult seeing our present situations through the eyes of others. Thus, our situations always seem to be the worst possible, for someone in our category of “problemhood”. We measure our (lack of) possessions against those seemingly better than us, not those seemingly worse. In this game of comparisons, it is unlikely we would come out victorious.
Being grateful does not necessarily mean saying “thank you” to someone. It could be taking a deep breath in the midst of a stressful period and appreciating that you would make it through that period, as you have other such circumstances. It means being by yourself, sometimes, and understanding that you are blessed, that nowhere else in this big, wide world is there someone sitting, like you are, with the exact mix of personality and skill that you have.
Gratitude is knowing that your opportunities to contribute are as limitless as you make them; contribution could be smiling at that stranger with a frown on his face as well as inventing a society-altering device.
Gratitude is about adopting a perspective of unbiased evaluation, of assessing things not for their immediate results but for how they add up as experiences in the journey we call life. It is taking the “glass half-full” view rather than the “glass half-empty” alternative.
“Wie viel ist aufzuleiden — How much suffering there is to get through.” — Rilke
Sometimes we expend so much time and effort in fighting for our goals and yet nothing seems to turn out right. In those moments, we see the fallen tree but fail to see the lush forest of growth in the process and the progress and opportunity waiting to be tapped. It is those moments that taking a step back might prove wise.
We are neither our failures nor our successes. We all possess a fire within, of a uniquely hued flame and intensity. Gratitude is the oxygen that fans those embers. Our lives may not be beds of roses — they would be boring, if they were. What is within our grasp is appreciating the ups and the downs, the new beginnings we are granted, and always giving faith a fighting chance.