I admit I have a lot to be grateful for. I live in a beautiful part of the world, with the person I love most in the world, surrounded by friends, and my two children are awesome. I’m not hungry; quite the opposite, I really need to focus on losing some weight. No one is dropping bombs on me, or using poison gas, or cruise missiles. I have a nice big car that lets me take my in-laws to the doctor and haul things for my friends as necessary. I really am lucky.
Or maybe I just worked hard for what I have. Maybe breaking free from my past and moving halfway around the world to build a new life took every bit of courage I possessed. Maybe I studied hard, took my chances, and tried hard to do my best.
But then again, I’m an Old White Guy, the playing field has never been level for me. My background is educated professional middle class. I have worked hard and done my best at every job I’ve had, but then, it was never hard for me to find work. You might say I’ve been blessed.
But of course, to say that, you would have to believe there was someone or something doing the blessing. Fortuna. The Universe. God. Which is fine, but if you don’t believe in Lady Luck, or God, or the stars as having selected you for good fortune, what then? Is it all just random? Arbitrary?
You know what I think? I think the answer to that question really does not matter. Because it’s the wrong question. Because if you think about it, it has to be a combination of luck, effort, and social advantage. Yes, I worked hard. But if I had come from a background that did not value education and had few material possessions, it would have been much, much harder to get here. All the same, there have been times when I have been damned poor, and it took both luck and hard work to get out of that.
Because asking the question, how did I get to be here, is less important than asking, where do I go from here? What now? What is to be done? Because however you want to think about it, somehow or other I got here, and I am happy with my lot. So how do I help that spread?
It is a very human thing to want to express your gratitude by saying, “Thank God,” or “Thank my lucky stars,” Or even, “Thanks to the social structures I live in…” Though honestly I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that. Plenty of people blame their circumstances for not doing well, but few are grateful for having been given a head start. If you are a member of a religion that celebrates such things, as most do, you will have special holidays, or church services, or festivals to give thanks. And I think this is a useful exercise. Because occasionally recognizing that we none of us make it on our own, that good luck, schools and teachers, friends and family, maybe even accident play a part in our lives that makes us who we are and helps us succeed.
Even if you don’t have much, taking a minute to recognize and even be grateful for what you do have is an excellent exercise in mindfulness. It can help put things into perspective. It is also a good way to guard against dickishness. Because if dickishness comes, as I believe it does, from a sense of entitlement, stopping and recognizing just how much you already have and how much of that comes from others, is a good way to put the brakes on.
I am grateful that I have a wife who loves me and edits my sermons.
I am grateful that I am healthy and I can enjoy good food and a beer from time to time.
I am grateful that it doesn’t always rain in Seattle.
I am also particularly grateful that I am not surrounded by dicks. That most of the people I meet are pleasant, friendly, helpful, and kind, and that they treat me as I wish to be treated. In return, I do the same. It’s a small enough bargain, but it makes all the difference.
Just think of what happens when you are in that happy place, where you feel particularly blessed by the god or goddess of your choice, or smiled upon by the stars, or just plain happy. And then somebody acts like a jerk.
Kind of sucks, doesn’t it? So don’t be that jerk.
If giving thanks isn’t part of your belief, if you take what life gives you as pure hazard, I still suggest you take a moment and think with gratitude of what you have. Who you know. What you see and smell and taste and enjoy every day, even if it isn’t much. Take a moment to sit quietly and listen. Breath in and feel the world moving about its business around you. Breath out and let your thoughts rest. Be grateful that of all the trillions upon trillions of atoms in the room, the ones that make up you are alive.
Enjoy your day. Be mindful of all the best things in your life. And don’t be a dick.