“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~ Melody Beattie ~
Despite the fact I am filled with gratitude most days, I still struggle with wanting more, looking outside for validation, and using comparison to steal my joy. There’s a fantastic song by the Avett Brothers titled, Ill With Want. It’s a slightly somber, yet beautiful song filled with longing, a simple melody, and profound lyrics….
Think about those last lines again, “I’m almost where I need to be, if only I could get a little more…” I imagine the cartoon dangling carrot, always slightly out of reach, taunting and teasing us. If we could just get one bite of that damn carrot we’d have all we want. And yet even if we were to reach it, we’d continually want more and more and more. Money, opportunity, recognition, affection, shoes….why is enough never enough? When did we become bottomless pits of want and need never feeling quite satisfied?
For years, my parents struggled financially. When I was a kid, we were damn poor. My dad worked a job he hated to support his family on a measly $6 an hour. Some of my earliest memories are waiting in line for WIC assistance, my mom paying for groceries with food stamps, and my dad budgeting every penny to make ends meet. Aftwards, half jokingly he’d proclaim, “we get to keep the house another month!” My sister and I will never forget the time our car’s heater went out on the way home from visiting our grandparents in Chicago, the windows cracked in January to keep the windshield from steaming up and us in the back seat, crying and hiding under pillows because we were getting rained on. We didn’t take vacations, we never went out to eat, and our clothes were 100% hand me downs.
I knew we weren’t rich. Sure, I drooled over the Sears Wishbook each holiday season and longed to go to Disneyland, but I was happy…genuinely, completely, and totally happy. My parents couldn’t give me everything I wanted, but they gave me more than I needed. Despite having so little for so many years, we were rich in love. We would wrap ourselves in blankets on our old porch, watching the stars and sing songs as a family. We made homemade pizza and watched movies every Friday, spent summers around giant bonfires, and holidays with family. We grilled out and spent lazy afternoons running around the yard. The smell of charcoal grill and freshly cut grass will always remind me of my childhood. We had little; it was more than enough.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
I can’t exactly pinpoint when I transited from feeling supremely content to utterly lacking, but it definitely got worse at the start of junior high. Our small school of 30 kids closed and annexed with the neighboring community. I started 6th grade with new peers; pretty girls with perfect clothes, McMansions and daddy’s generous wallet (at least that’s how I perceived them). They were nice and welcoming, but I felt so profoundly unworthy and uncomfortable in every way. All of my shortcomings became glaringly obvious.
I began looking outside for direction and validation. I started measuring my worth and value against every one and everything around me. You would think 25 years later I’d have outgrown this adolescent game but the reality is, I still struggle. It amazes me how easily and unconsciously I slip into comparison and want, followed by the familiar pangs of longing.
Besides making you feel like shit, the biggest problem with comparing ourselves to others is that we think we’re comparing apples to apples when in reality, we rarely see the entire picture. We’re so quick to assume the worst in ourselves (and the best in others). We discredit a person’s entire history when we make snap judgements and assumptions. My sister tells a story of the time she was at a Weight Watchers meeting as a teenager. She noticed a very thin girl her age come in and sit down. My sister instantly starting comparing herself, thinking “jeez, this girl thinks she’s fat? She doesn’t know what it’s like to be fat.” The meeting started. After a time, to my sister’s amazement and surprise, the leader singled out the thin girl and asked her to stand and share her story of losing 100 pounds.
We assume other’s have it easier than us. We feel our fate is doomed. We are heat seeking missiles of negativity and comparison, always looking to validate our belief that other people have it better and easier than we do.
Often we compare our lives to some dreamed up, fantastical ideal about what success and happiness should look like. Of course we feel bad, we’ve spent years “should-ing” all over ourselves. Comparison turns our joy and contentment off in an instant. It reminds us whatever we have isn’t enough.
Conditional happiness is a losing game because there will always, always be something better and shinier around the next corner. Spoiled children can never be happy because they don’t learn to appreciate what they have. We are spoiling ourselves by constantly giving in to the idea that this this next thing will bring us more happiness and that what we have isn’t sufficient. We continue to be ill with want because you can never get enough of what you don’t need.
We Have More Than Enough
What if you woke up today with only the things you were thankful for yesterday? What would you become profoundly grateful for if this were true? Your health? Your misbehaved kids? Your too small house? Maybe you’d look at your body, albeit larger and softer than you’d prefer, with new eyes. Perhaps instead of focusing on its flaws, you’d adore it for carrying you through life, growing your children, feeding your brain, holding your heart, and letting you love your people.
My favorite author and activist Glennon Melton of Monastery writes a fantastic piece about the power of perspectacles – seeing what you have with new eyes so you can stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses. She goes on to say “Sometimes it seems that our entire economy is based on distracting women from their blessings. Producers of STUFF need to find 10,000 ways to make women feel less than about our clothes, kitchens, selves so that we will keep buying more. So maybe freeing ourselves just a little from the Tyranny of Trend is a women’s issue – because we certainly aren’t going to get much world changing done if we spend all of our time and money on wardrobe and kitchen changing.”
When we waste time and energy believing happiness is just out of reach, we fail to see the abundance that surrounds us. Since comparison is so deeply engrained in how we operate, take a moment to compare your circumstances to that of the rest of the world. It’s easy to forget here in our little bubble of the planet that 780 million people don’t have access to clean water and one in nine people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. Over 260 million kids don’t have access to education world wide and 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. Remember this next time you’re annoyed your toddler pees all over the toilet seat.
Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. No doubt the last few weeks, twelve days of gratitude challenges and #gratefulthankfulblessed hashtags filled your social media feed. The spirit of gratitude is in the air! And while this season is a great time to get in the spirit of thankfulness, let’s not forget to make gratitude a part of our daily lives year round.
Make a habit of looking around and seeing your world with new eyes. Let go of comparisons and stop thinking “I’ll be happy when….” Consider starting a gratitude journal, Oprah does it. Write down at least one think every day you’re grateful for with a focus on how the challenges and obstacles are actually blessings in disguise. Remember, everything is here to help you, especially when it doesn’t feel that way. Count your blessings each night before you fall asleep. Set intentions of positivity, patience, perspective and abundance at the start of each day.
I mean, Emmett gets it. The Everything is Awesome tune is all about perspective.
Life is good ’cause everything awesome
Lost my job, there’s a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community…
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It’s awesome to win and it’s awesome to lose
Blue skies, bouncy springs, we just named a few awesome things
A Nobel prize, a piece of string
You know what’s awesome? Everything!
Dogs with fleas, allergies
A book of Greek antiquities
Brand new pants, a very old vest
Awesome items are the best
Trees, (frogs), clogs, they’re awesome
Rocks, clocks, and socks, they’re awesome
Figs, and jigs, and twigs, that’s awesome
Everything you see or think or say is awesome
I mean, okay, maybe Emmet takes it a little too far, but when I find myself wanting more, a bigger house, fancier vacations, a booming business…I try and remind myself the moments that bring the most joy to my life would be exactly the same. Sure, I’d slip into higher thread count sheets each night and read books poolside, but ultimately the simple joys would be exactly the same. As a kid I had nothing and yet had more than enough to be happy… a roof over my head, enough to eat, love of family and time together.
Of course wanting and striving for more is absolutely okay, but you first must be genuinely happy where you are WHILE also working towards abundance. It begins by letting go of a scarcity mentality and knowing you already have everything you actually need.
Today, I am thankful for road trips with distant destination, new skylines, and unfolding adventurous along the way.
bold fall colors, hot coffee, good books and fuzzy socks
Family movie nights with dad’s famous homemade popcorn
Family dinners with good cocktails, chats and food
My son’s amazing blue eyes
Drive-in sunsets while waiting for the movie to start
Sweaty 4th of July cookouts at Grandma’s house
and watching my husband spend time with our kiddos
What are you most thankful for? What is one thing you could see in a different light in order to practice gratitude for even the most challenging or difficult obstacles?