Be Grateful No Matter The Circumstances
Rector Chris Girata's latest article in the Katy Trail Weekly
It has been noted that that one significant difference between people in the U.S. and people in less wealthy countries is that Americans expect life to be easy, and when life isn’t easy, we complain. People in the poorest countries expect life to be difficult, and when life isn’t, they are grateful.
Gratitude is a powerful force. As a teenager in the '90s, I remember hearing about gratitude journals, made extremely popular by Oprah Winfrey. The idea that people would focus on and record what made them feel grateful seemed like an epicly new idea, even though being grateful was nothing new. So what had changed?
As I noted in the opening, gratitude is what we feel when we experience something that exceeds our expectations. Feeling grateful is a direct result of how much we believe we are entitled to receive. Much has been written about entitlement, with many people in older generations pointing fingers at young adults. But believe me, entitlement is not a problem of the young alone. We all have work to do when it comes to approaching life with more gratitude.
For many people, we expect life to be comfortable, predictable and stable. But that expectation is a construct of our delusion that we can be in complete control of our lives. Most people in the world do not expect to have that level of control, and so their lives are lived with a much simpler and more authentic sense of joy and wonder, which often translates as gratitude. And the difference between people who have a lot, like most Americans, and those who have very little is even more pronounced when you add faith to the mix.
In 2010, on the night of the massive earthquake in Haiti, people were heard singing throughout the city. In the midst of horrendous devastation, loss and chaos, Haitian people in Port-au-Prince prayed, sang hymns and danced in the streets. And it wasn’t a one-time occurrence.
Just last year, before the rainy season began, a news report showed people in Haiti being moved away from tents along hillsides and gullies where their lives would be endangered once the rainy season came. They were moved to flat, elevated areas that would keep them safe, but were far more inconvenient. The people probably didn’t go to the flat, elevated areas initially because there is no vegetation: it’s rocky, and it’s also far from schools and the markets where they buy food, making their lives harder than they already were. But the news clip ended with a video of a young woman singing — singing about her faith in God’s goodness and hope for a brighter day because she was glad to be saved from the possibility of drowning.
We can hardly imagine that. We are accustomed to things working; we are used to solving problems; and we are materially wealthy. When something breaks in our homes, we take for granted that we can go to the nearby hardware store and find a replacement part, the only difficulty being deciding which brand to choose. We measure success through numerical growth and complain when our day isn’t very productive. But we have so much to learn.
I probably shouldn’t be, but I am constantly surprised when I speak with people who have taken time to serve people they believe are in great need. We have constructed a system in which people like us who have a lot, give to “people in need.” Yet so often, whenever we think we are giving something to someone in need, we are surprised by how much more we get back. Generosity is the cornerstone of gratitude, and when we realize we have more than we will ever need, our perspective shifts from one of self-centeredness, to one of selflessness.
So before you are quick to complain about the world or about your own troubles, I invite you to stop, consider what is working well in your life, and be grateful. Gratitude is a state of mind, and the kind of state in which I wish we all spent more time. Life might often feel like a hill that is too hard to climb, but when we realize that life is the ultimate gift, I believe gratitude will change us for good.
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