Things could be so much better. This could be a world that takes care of parents and families. It could be a world with a better safety net. It could be a world where we don’t shrug after a school shooting, or as democracy is dismantled by fanatics and nutjobs.
We could use more support. Inflation could come down. Your spouse could get their act together. Things could be better, they should be better.
So it can be frustrating to hear all this talk about gratitude. You’ve spent hours preparing for Thanksgiving and you already know your extended family isn’t going to appreciate it…and yet you’re the one that’s supposed to be grateful?
Nearly two thousand years ago, the writer Plutarch and his family were deep in grief. They had just lost a young child. Work and life and responsibilities loomed as they do for so many of us. Gratitude was the furthest thing from their mind. But Plutarch caught himself. In a famous letter he composed on grief to his wife, he would write, “as long as there are others who would gladly choose your fate, even including our present state, it is awful of you, the bearer of that fate, to complain and grumble.”
In a sense, he was searching for a way to be grateful. A perspective that allowed him to get outside the immediacy of his pain and anger and find a different way to see it. As it happens, thinking about other people is almost always the way to do that.
How many people would trade places with you in a second? How many of them stay awake at night dreaming for just one day of the peace and privilege you take for granted? Yeah, it’s tough having a teenager–but some parents will never get that. Yeah, your own parents (or in-laws) are frustrating, but again, coming out of a pandemic, some people are sitting around deeply missing that frustration. Think of the citizens of Ukraine, dodging missiles on the way to work or school. Think of the citizens of Russia, fearing their tyrannical leader. Think of the families in Gaza and Israel. Think of the people who are scrimping and saving just to put *anything* on their children’s plates today.
There is so much to be grateful for, every second, every minute we’re alive. That fact that we are alive is the very first thing. The fact that we know luxuries and technologies that our most recent ancestors could not even imagine is another. The fact that we are smart enough, capable enough, self-aware enough to even stop and consider our emotions–instead of being prisoners to them, as so many are–is another. The fact that we have our children and they us? A gift from the gods.
Today and always we should be grateful. To choose resentment or envy, bitterness or fear, anxiety or anger–because your flight was delayed? Because your children’s band teacher is a jerk? Because your marriage fell apart? This is to spit in the face of so many people who have so much less.
Yes, we should be grateful. Because we are incredibly fortunate. More fortunate than we could have ever imagined.