Fruclassity Commandment #7: Develop Gratitude For What You Already Have

DH = Dear Husband

Gratitude when disaster strikes

Of all the images capturing the aftermath of Nepal’s tragic earthquake, the one that sticks in my mind is the one showing two hands. One belongs to a person who has escaped the devastation unharmed, and it is holding another hand – paler, weaker – belonging to someone who has clearly been hurt. Who are they? Was this a friend holding the hand of a friend? A parent holding the hand of a child? Two spouses? Two colleagues? Two strangers? I can’t recall an obvious visual indicator of gender or age. Just one hand holding another.

The collective loss of this disaster – 5,000 dead and counting – is unfathomable, and I can only process it as a general horror. But the empathy expressed in those two hands is clear and profound. It makes me so grateful for the hands that mine are blessed to hold – in mutual strength and good health. The clarity ushered in by disaster so often brings on gratitude.

Humbling and contagious gratitude of a blind man who now sees

In the summer of 2013, an article appeared in our local newspaper about Donald Wellington, a man who had been blind for 61 years and who, as a result of advanced medical treatments, had his sight restored in 1995 . “My eyes are too powerful!” the 66-year-old had reported with the shock of perfect vision at the time. Over the months, he adjusted to visual clarity, but almost twenty years later, he still treasured it. When asked in November of 2013 whether or not he had traveled since the restoration of his eyesight, the 85-year-old Wellington could only say that he had been to a few small towns less than an hour’s drive from home. And why hadn’t he traveled farther away? To enjoy the sights of the world that were now available to him? “It’s beautiful here,” he answered. Pointing to a flag fluttering in the breeze he said, “I could look at that all day.”

Wellington’s gratitude for his sight made him content with what he had. He didn’t live with that constant sense of dissatisfaction – that craving for more and better that is fostered in our consumer society. I felt humbled by his story, and I started to see with new eyes after reading it.

Consciously cultivating gratitude

Gratitude can’t be forced, but it can be developed. In his article “Cultivating the Art of Gratitude“, published in USA Today July 2013, Robert Emmons asserts that when we make the effort to acknowledge and identify what makes us happy, and to express appreciation for it, we develop gratitude. And with gratitude, he says, come all kinds of other psychological and health benefits. “Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.” Emmons lists a number of “couterintuitive” findings in gratitude literature. Here is one that hit home for me:  “Remembering one’s sorrows, failures, and other painful experiences is more beneficial to feeling grateful than is recalling only successes. A reversal of fortune–a redemptive twist in your life when a difficult challenge is conquered-primes the pump of gratitude.

Debt-Reduction and gratitude

As part of our efforts to get out of debt, DH and I have sifted through our various expenditures to figure out which ones we really need and which ones truly add to our happiness. In determining our value-based priorities, we have eliminated a lot of wasteful spending, but perhaps even more importantly, we have become more conscious of what we appreciate. This deliberate awareness has developed our gratitude. Furthermore, in facing our debts, we’ve also had to reflect upon our former bad money habits and to take ownership of how poorly we set ourselves up, so that DH’s career shake-up sent us into years of financial distress. As we have opened our eyes to the hard facts, we have taken on our failures and have started working a reversal. This “conquering of a difficult challenge” has “primed the pump of gratitude” for us.


Fruclassity Commandment #7: Develop gratitude for what you already have. Marketing machines aim to make us dissatisfied and to long for something we don’t have. Consumer spending can be like a drug addiction. Recognize that you don’t need that next hit any more than you needed the last one. Take on an attitude of gratitude for what you have now. If you’re satisfied with what you already have, you’ll be less susceptible to longing. And you won’t spend in your search for that mythical “something” that keeps eluding you.


 

When I think about the people in Nepal who have been impacted by the earthquake, I’m struck by how lucky they must think we are – just to have a home that is still standing. And I think that they must be reflecting upon the last interactions they had with those they might have lost. That last conversation. That last argument. Or that last time they held hands.

 

*Photo courtesy of Sunshine City

 

 

10 comments on “Fruclassity Commandment #7: Develop Gratitude For What You Already Have

    1. It’s true, Brian. There are no guarantees for any of us in terms of how much time we have. The only guarantee we have is that gratitude will make any amount of time richer.

  1. In our community a Rabbi wrote an article for the paper talking about his new house and the feelings he had returning to it after a mission trip to an extremely poor part of Africa. He said his walk in closet was nearly bigger than the entire living space of some of the people he’d served. Basically he said he was feeling guilty about all he had compared to how little they had. But then he realized that if he had smaller closets, it wouldn’t make the people in Africa’s lives any better. So he decided that instead of feeling guilty, he’d feel thankful and blessed. That’s the approach I take. I am so blessed by the riches I have and I try to give thanks every day.

    1. I think the Rabbi hit upon something important there. That feeling of guilt that we sometimes get when our own good fortune stands out in such drastic contrast to the suffering of others serves no good purpose. Guilt – except for the cases where there really has been wrong-doing – is a joy killer and a life sucker. I think that gratitude is far more effective than guilt in developing our empathy and in leading us to offer help where it’s needed. I’m glad you’re blessed by your riches, Kathy. And I’m glad that you’re grateful. Thanks for your comment : )

      1. Great comment, Kathy, and I couldn’t agree more! Ruth, your post brought tears to my eyes. So many times we focus on what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do. We are all SO blessed, in so many ways. Just to have food to eat every day, and shelter – those are HUGE blessings! We must not forget that.

        1. I find I often do forget, and then a disaster like the earthquake in Nepal reminds me again. I could use more of Emmons’ “cultivation of gratitude”.

  2. You’re so poetic, Ruth. I love reading your posts. I totally agree on gratitude. Sometimes I realize I’m taking good fortune for granted and I stop and take a deep breath and reflect on it. It stops making me focus on what I don’t have yet, and appreciate what I do have now. And I thank God first, always. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kay : ) It’s true that any dissatisfaction or sense of deprivation that we might harbour fades into the background the more prominent our gratitude is. Keep on taking those deep breaths and offering thanks!

  3. I would agree that learning to be content with what I have took a long time to sink in. My whole life I’d been raised with envy of everything everyone else had that I didn’t. When I got out of school and had a job where I could afford a lot of what I envied, it was spend, spend, spend. Ironically, I was the least happy then – less happy than at any other time in my life.

    It wasn’t until we started focusing on buying out of need and not want, and trimming our lifestyle creep, and becoming content with what I had that I was able to be grateful for it as well. I am grateful for what I have and truly appreciate being in my situation and working towards a FIRE date. I’m not working to get more stuff anymore, but rather more time.

    1. How fabulous that you are working towards a FIRE date. Debt-freedom seems incredibly good to me from my vantage point, but Financial Independence (Retire Early) is something of another magnitude. Interesting that your gratitude came after your trimming of your “lifestyle creep” (great term!) I think that I have experienced something similar. The intention came first. The side-benefits came later. And gratitude is certainly a benefit. Thanks for your comment, Mr. SSC.

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