Entire books have been written about it. It’s often mentioned as one of the keys to happiness. Those who practice it swear it’s the foundation to living a fuller, more rewarding life.
“But I can’t think of anything to be grateful for. My life has been hard. I never got a break. Nobody ever offered me a helping hand. So when it comes to expressing my gratitude, I think I’ll pass.”
Sound familiar? It’s not an uncommon response.
We all have problems. And sometimes, it seems like life’s setbacks and difficulties are coming at us faster than we can handle them.
“Life is Difficult.” M. Scott Peck
Constantly dealing with negative situations can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. And at the end of the day, we’re left wondering why we’re plagued with an unfair share of difficulties and setbacks. We may even experience a bit of paranoia, asking ourselves, “Am I being targeted by the universe for something I did or didn’t do?”
It’s enough to make the idea of practicing gratitude one of those passing thoughts that slips through the cracks.
But what if many of the so-called “problems” in our lives are the result of our own choices?
We sit in traffic, wasting time — because we choose to own a car that allows us to travel to the places we want to go.
Our air conditioner breaks and we’re hit with a thousand dollar repair bill — because we’ve chosen to control the temperature inside our homes (a luxury, by the way, enjoyed by only 8 percent of the world’s population).
We arrive late for an appointment — because we have a life filled with loved ones who depend on us and we unfailingly chose their priorities over ours.
There’s a trend here, and with a little more reflection, it becomes obvious that many of the difficulties and set-backs we experience in life stem from the very things that give us pleasure, enjoyment, or make our lives easier (and ironically, in retrospect, are the very things that deserve our gratitude).
Let’s take another look at the same, so-called “problems” I mentioned above, but this time, with a healthy dose of perspective.
“I hate this traffic.” What if you didn’t have a car? What would your life be like? How would you get around? How would it affect your ability to go places, see things, take care of your responsibilities?
“That broken AC is really going to cut into my savings. Why do these things always happen to me?” What if you lived in a home without an air-conditioner? What would your life be like if your environment — your comfort, your enjoyment, even your health — were completely dependent on the weather?
“I’m always late for my appointments, and it’s because my family doesn’t respect my time.” What if you didn’t have a family? What kind of life would you have if you were alone? Is that the kind of life you want to live?
Perspective is a powerful device, especially when it reminds us to ask, “Are these really problems, or just minor inconveniences — the result of choosing to live a life of comparative luxury and independence?”
There’s a real advantage to re-framing the majority of our daily annoyances and frustrations as “life maintenance.” Because when the real problems come, and they will — and I’m talking about those traumatic, panic-inducing hardships like losing a job, going through a divorce, or helping a spouse or family member fight drug or alcohol addiction — you’ll be better equipped to handle them.
Instead of being frustrated and worn down from emotionally wrestling with everyday maintenance issues, you’ll be far more prepared to make objective decisions and take the most appropriate action to resolve the issue.
Life is about solving problems.
By establishing processes and systems to handle the small stuff, and developing the resources and attitude we need for dealing with the real difficulties, we’re more likely to spend our time on the things that matter, to focus our efforts on problems that are worth solving.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Marcus Cicero
I’ll leave you with this:
Anyone who has lived beyond the age of thirty will tell you life is not predictable.
Day-to-day living brings unexpected change. We inherit new bosses and are forced to find new jobs. We begin new relationships while old ones break or fade away. We age and our health declines. Accidents and disease leave us less capable — or worse.
The very foundation of our lives can change with the sunrise.
And yet, most of us bend with the situation, find the best solution, and often come through the ordeal stronger and more capable. Seldom are our problems as bad or as serious as we initially think they are.
So the next time you’re feeling down because life has thrown you a curve ball, or you’re disappointed over the way you’ve been treated, try this:
Think of the last person you saw in a wheelchair. Imagine talking with them over a cup of coffee as you get to know them. And then listen carefully as they tell you how it hits them like a punch in the gut every time they face a flight of stairs and there’s no elevator. Or how many times they’ve wished they could walk on a beach, or climb a mountain to see the view, or hike through the forest.
If you’ve got two good legs, this would be a good time to ask the question again . . .
Can’t think of anything to be grateful for?
Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a writer and founder of SuccessPoint360 — his business website featuring articles on career advice and strategies for enhancing professional and personal development. A certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business, Roger draws on his background as a fourteen-year corporate employee, business owner, and management consultant to help others achieve higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world. Follow Roger at SuccessPoint360.com, LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook and Twitter.