Author: Larry Dansky
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ― Epicurus
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ― Meister Eckhart
“Who is rich?” “The one who can appreciate what he has.” – The Talmud
This Thanksgiving holiday season I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. Of course, that is the theme of the holiday, and I am truly thankful for all of my blessings. But this year, there were some questions that came up for me that I’ve been struggling with.
I began to wonder if I would still feel grateful if I were to lose much of what I have. I am always amazed when I hear stories of people who have turned tragedies into blessings. I am in awe when I meet people who have every reason to be downtrodden, but look for and often find the positive in the middle of tough situations. Rather than complain about what they’ve lost, they find gratitude for what they have. These stories of courage include people who have lost everything in a flood or fire, yet are grateful for their lives and the few possessions they were able to save. The news is full of stories of people who have to flee their home country in the middle of a war, but have gratitude for any assistance they are given. I have seen people in grief when they’ve lost a lifelong partner, and yet find the courage to be grateful for the years they had together. As I said, I am in awe. These are the people who serve as reminders that, even in the face of tragedy, we can appreciate what we have.
I also wonder if it’s sometimes easier for those who have very little to practice gratitude. It seems like the more possessions I have, the more I worry about protecting what I have and thinking about what more I want. Sometimes I feel like the rich young man who could not sell his possessions in order to obtain eternal life. Jesus said “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24). This is also the idea behind the second of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha (the causes of suffering are attachment and craving). We attach tightly to what we have while we often crave even more. Those who have little do not have much to attach to, so they may be more appreciative and grateful for what they do have. As Kris Kristofferson says, “When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”.
I am reminded about a life lesson I learned years ago on a trip to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I traveled with a group into the rural areas of the southern peninsula of Haiti, so remote there was no running water or electricity. The people I met there lived day to day, walking miles to the river to get water, and miles to a village to sell whatever they could grow. And yet, as opposed to being depressed about what they didn’t have, they expressed gratitude and were thankful for what they did have. They fed us whatever they could provide, and hosted us graciously. To this day, I think of them often, especially when I get annoyed when the grocery store is out of the kind of cereal I want. A real lesson in first world problems!
Holy one, bless those who have suffered and yet find the courage to express their gratitude for what they have. This Thanksgiving, I am reminded that I am truly blessed and have much to be thankful for.