“I don’t have to choose extraordinary moments to find happiness. It’s in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”
I am always struck by how circumstances really don’t determine a grateful heart. Some of the most thoughtful and rich-hearted people are those who have suffered the most. I think of people like Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. They experienced and lived in harsh circumstances, yet found a way to be grateful for every day. I think of my aunt who cared graciously for my special needs cousin, lost her first husband in a motorcycle crash with four children at home, and is now nursing her second husband as his health deteriorates. And yet, Aunt Marilyn lives every day with a song in her heart and deep appreciation for the good things in her life.
Our friends in South Asia don’t live surrounded by the plethora of things like most of us do in the West. Their homes are not air-conditioned, despite average temperatures in the nineties with matching humidity. They don’t have refrigerators and pantries stuffed with every delight for every palate. Instead, they live day-to-day, not worrying too much about tomorrow, just hoping for enough to get through today.
They face discrimination from the very moment of their birth. Many families struggle constantly to find employment, to search through garbage heaps, to make bricks, just so there will be food for the children at home.
And yet, they laugh, play, hug, walk along the ocean, and gather with family for festivals. Never have I sensed in the brothers and sisters I’ve met a sense of entitlement or privilege. Oh, the children have hopes and dreams. They are aware of the discrimination they face every day and the social structures designed to keep them stuffed down and impoverished. But they don’t live in what they don’t have.
Hear that again: They don’t live in what they don’t have.
In the coming weeks, most of us will gather around tables to share our thanksgivings. We’ll make social posts and say a few prayers expressing joy in our hearts of the good things that surround us, like family, friends, warm homes, tables full of food and good health. And then we’ll jump right back into the things we want, the things we don’t have.
Maybe that’s why anxiety and depression are at an all time high in America. And maybe this is something we can learn from our brothers and sisters in South Asia — to fully live in the things we already have, to cherish them, to delight in them, not just at Thanksgiving, but at the beginning and end of each day, and with each breath in moments of rest.
This Thanksgiving, maybe we can tap into the kind of gratitude our friends in the East practice every day. And maybe, that will transform the rest of our year.