Tuesday, March 7, 2017


I struggle with gratitude. It should not be a problem. There are plenty of friends and strangers who suffer more and never complain. In fact, they often offer words of gratitude in place of sharing their misery. Bear with me if you will, though, as there are reasons gratitude is difficult for many people to express.

Those who express frustration and despair at their financial, social, or physical circumstances are often shamed for it. Constructive criticism, if even warranted, has been replaced with indignation and hateful remarks. Civility is no longer the order of the day. Even well-meaning friends often couch their sympathy in religious, condescending tones that still imply that you more or less get what you deserve. If only you were more grateful, more positive, or more....something other than who you are, you would be happy as you are.

All of us are constantly bombarded with examples of material comfort and excess by the news and entertainment media, as well as advertising aimed at ever-wealthier consumers. We invariably either allow ourselves to be persuaded that material wealth is something we should aspire to, or we become despondent over our realization that we are in debt for things we already have. We compare ourselves to others and become depressed over our "failure" to provide for ourselves. It does not matter how unrealistic our views of ourselves and others, it is a nearly automatic response. Our work ethic erodes as we see ourselves as devalued, or at least undervalued, cogs in a machine that makes other people comfortable.

Meanwhile, we are still cognizant of friends and strangers who are worse off. The Facebook couple who were in a wreck that totaled their vehicle. The friend on Twitter fighting cancer with physical, mental, and emotional strength you cannot comprehend. The town erased by a tornado that you saw on the evening news. "Minorities" who struggle daily against intense public hatred, bigotry and discrimination based on attributes determined by genetics. You are grateful for your White privilege, your gender privilege, your "normal" lifestyle, but also ashamed you have not done more with it. Gratitude for your own condition seems somehow empty or false in the face of that.

A good many people were raised with the idea that one should suffer in silence, that it is not your place to disclose "personal" trials and tragedies. Exposing your vulnerabilities was inviting someone to take advantage of your condition. It was also considered poor taste to flaunt your good fortune. Modesty and humility were virtues that garnered respect. How times have changed. It is important to share emotions, even negative ones, because it helps ease stress and also opens the doors to treatment for depression and other psychological illnesses. You cannot receive professional help if no one knows you need it and you won't admit it. Unfortunately, we no longer have the same sentiments toward snobbery and irresponsible affluence as we did back in the day.

Personally, I have no desire for wealth. I would rather have fewer material possessions, in fact. Were I to want to become wealthier, it would be to help others a lot less fortunate. It pains me at least as much to be unable to donate to causes I believe in as it does to be scraping the bottom of my bank account to meet my own financial obligations. I do wish my wife and I could travel more, learning more about other cultures, other nations, other organisms we share the planet with. That is what life should be about, rather than status and luxury.

I will be the first to admit that I need to express gratitude more often, but you cannot coerce someone into gratitude. One way I am guaranteed to remember and express my "blessings" is when I see someone else setting the example by sharing what they are grateful for. Leading by example, being the change you wish to see in the world. Those credos are popular and longstanding for a reason.


  1. I'm guessing this isn't going to be the response you're wanting or needing in regards to this topic. But... here goes...

    Just because you aren't suffering as much as someone else doesn't mean you're not suffering. It doesn't mean you can't suffer. It doesn't mean you can't be sad or despondent. And... suffering in and of itself isn't a bad thing. It really isn't. Sometimes suffering is life. How dramatic, right?

    I do think you have an unrealistic view of yourself and others. Life isn't all sunshine and lollipops. I'm tired of living in a world where people can't struggle. Where happiness is the end all and be all. Where happiness is valued more than "doing the best you can."

    You've known me for years. Would you believe me if I told you you've never known me to be happy? Because that's the truth. Yes I've graduated from college. Yes I'm married. Yes I've had a kid. I've experienced all these things that are supposed to be "happy days." I can count ONE day in my ENTIRE adult life when I've truly been happy: the day after my dad died. Finally after nine years with ALS he was no longer suffering.

    For me, my life is nothing but struggle. I do the best I can every day. No, I'm not the one who lost my job. No, I'm not the one who lost my friends. No, I'm not the one who got evicted from my house. No, I'm not the one with ALS. It doesn't mean my life isn't hard *for me.* Poor mental health is a biiiiiitch. And it seems to make everything, like, five million times worse *for me.*

    But! It doesn't mean this is how my life is going to be for the rest of my life. Ebb and flow. Peaks and valleys and abysses and valleys.

    I may not be openly gracious about all the good in my life in comparison to others. But in regards to "leading by example," I don't let my mood affect how I treat people. Being gracious is great and all, but I think being kind, and compassionate, and forgiving is more important. Or, dang it, at least as important. Put those positive vibes out into the world however you can. You know?

    We're all struggling. I guarantee you. Even the gracious people. Even people with wealth. Even people who travel all the time. We. Are. All. Struggling.

    If anyone ever asks me for a book recommendation I *always* tell them to read "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. The most profound quote I've ever read is: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."

    You know what, seriously, fuck gratitude. You don't have to live everyday, "I'm grateful to wake up this morning. I'm grateful the floor didn't collapse when I got out of bed. I'm grateful for a bed to sleep in." Whatever... Posting your gratitude does no good if you're only doing it because you think you need to, if you're only doing it because you wish to see more of it. You need to actually and truly be grateful.

    Be kind to yourself. Realize that life isn't always going to be hard for you. Keep your head up. Keep trucking on. Eventually you'll reach a point in your life when gratitude comes naturally.

    You won't always be scraping the bottom of your bank account. You will be able to travel more. *Keep your head up.* Stay positive. Seriously. It may be all you *can do* in this world, but damnit, being positive is always a step in the right direction.

    1. Thank you for this. There is no one response I was wanting or needing; no right answer to anything here. No judgment, either.

  2. Among the many things for which I am grateful: your writing and friendship

    1. Thank you, sir, I share the same sentiment about you.

  3. It's hard to be grateful when you compare yourself to other people. You can always find someone better off than you are, and someone else worse off. Focusing on either of those leads to frustration--either that you don't measure up, or that you can't do enough to help others.

    I finally turned off the TV and blocked all ads on my computer. I didn't need to be fed that kind of materialism. I only go shopping when I specifically need something. What I don't see, I don't want. It helps me stay content with what I have, especially since we don't have any discretionary income at the moment.

    We can always find things to be thankful for, and we can always find areas where life has come up short, where our hopes and expectations aren't met. I find it hard to focus on the former while being overwhelmed by the latter. I find it harder still when I'm dealing with depression--it colors everything I feel, emphasizing the bad and hiding the good. I suspect you may be in that same boat.