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