Gratitude is such a buzz word these days. It is promoted as a solution to anything, from anxiety to depression to relationship challenges and even to improve your health.
However, “show gratitude” usually enters the same category as “be happy”. Sounds easy in theory and hard in practice. Usually, it is suggested to have a gratitude journal where you write down reasons why you feel lucky but after a while, it comes down to “Thank you for this beautiful day and thank you for the people around me”. In other words, it is a classic example where something is done at a very superficial level and the actual improvements to that person’s life are marginal.
I’d like to take a new perspective on this.
Yesterday, while near Tower Hill in London, I was listening to an audiobook and heading towards the station. Then I saw a beggar. I don’t usually notice them and I generally ignore them. Call it rationalization or however you want to call it but I don’t think I notice 95% of them.
In this case, it was different. I saw him and I saw something … different in him. Apart from the sign that wrote that he served in the army, there was some kind of … kindness but also resignation in him. He looked at me in a way that didn’t reproached or anything, just to see if I can spare a pound or so. I haven’t. Three stations later, I was ready to return to do this but I haven’t. I felt horrible for a few tens of minutes.
It is not the fact that he was a beggar, it was the fact that in a way, I could be so receptive to what he was feeling, in a way that rarely happens. Through his body-language, through the sign that mentioned that he served in the military, through the resignation on his face when he thought that I’m going to donate but I haven’t … I’ve realized a lot.
And that’s when you learn the idea of gratitude. You don’t need to read a book about it or go to a course. You don’t need to sign up for a fancy online service, download an app or buy an expensive journal to write your gratitude thoughts.
I’ve learned then to feel thankful because I have people who care about me enough to never let me reach that state. I’m sure that he too was a strong person once but not everyone can be strong, all the time and then he slipped. I’m sure too he had dreams and ambitions and goals and I’m grateful for the fact that I can pursue them in my own life. I’m grateful for the coffee that I haven’t started drinking yet and for the chance to write this on my laptop, at 6 AM in the morning (anyway, 7 AM).
When you see a person like that, the first thought is to dismiss it. It is uncomfortable to accept the reality. However, the fact I guess that I’ve felt empathy at a very intense level, even if it was for just a brief second, made me realize how many blessings I have in my own life. I am living an exciting, beautiful adventure. I have people that love me. I do something that I love doing, most of the time anyway. I am heading on a path of my life that promises a lot. I am developing myself as a person and it is easier and easier to look in the mirror and love myself, something that was rather difficult not so long ago.
I am grateful. Even if I feel a bit guilty for not helping him … I am grateful for everything that I am, have around me and will be. It doesn’t take a lot to get there, where he was and I can’t dismiss it by saying that I’m a stronger person. I am but I’ve had a lot of favorable circumstances working towards my favor.
So thank you life … for everything. I’m really grateful.
PS: I don’t think it is possible to fix everything that is wrong in the world. In a way, it is darwinism, survival of the fittest.
However, I do believe that we can change a small part of it. Now, I won’t become a social activist. It is not my thing. You won’t find me at a rally trying to change something. When other people go to these things, I’m home sleeping or watching a movie. I haven’t been to a single one, I don’t donate to Greenpeace and I’m not volunteering my weekends.
Nevertheless … I do believe that I can change a small part of the world. It may be myself, it may be my girlfriend, it may be my friends. When you walk down the street and you pick up an empty pack of cigarettes to throw it into the bin, you’ve changed something for the better.
It is not much, but you’ve made an impact.
When you smile to someone or say to someone “it has been a pleasure”, you are making someone’s day better. You may think that these things are common sense but it is more common to frown these days than to actually smile.
When you do a small gesture of appreciation or service, you are making a small part of the world better. When you serve others, you serve yourself because others are your environment unless you’ve decided to go Walden style and live in a forest.
So the call to action is not to become an activist for anyone’s rights. It’s not that. I mean if that’s your thing, do it but it is not mine. My call to action is to bring a little bit of happiness or light whenever you can – preferably for someone close to you, someone that you love but if not, even for a complete stranger. We’re actually all of us together in this.
So … think about this.