I am about to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and then to be with my mother as she goes undergoes and begins to recuperate from heart surgery. There is an interesting challenge in these coinciding events - Thanksgiving and a serious medical event. It is a challenge that is not unique, but representative of the way our lives all take shape.
Although the Thanksgiving holiday as it is celebrated in the US has lost much of its emphasis on gratitude, the practice of being appreciative and grateful is at the centre of what it means to live a fulfilled life. Every story can be told in at least two ways. “What terrible luck that my mother needs heart surgery. Why her? Woe is me!” And there is another story: “What wonderful luck that she has lived to the point she has and that there are wonderful hospitals near her and that surgical techniques have advanced so far and that she can afford to have state of the art medical treatment!”
The stories we tell ourselves and others determine whether we are experiencing lives of good fortune and blessing or lives of bad luck and torment.
I read an excellent book a while back with the title: “How to Want What You Have.” What a counter-intuitive notion that title represents! In a culture where we constantly seek to have everything we want and more, happiness is tied to having good things happen rather than appreciation of life as it is currently. There are even spiritual programmes based around getting what you want through chanting, prayer, or just having the right attitude. All of them are useless if not frankly dangerous because striving to get what you want reinforces and magnifies the ‘misery gap’ - the gap between what you think you should have and what you actually have.
A key to happiness is turning that attitude around - to learn to really want and appreciate what you already have. And if you can reach the point where what you have feels like even more than what you want, then you have created the ‘happiness gap’ - the feeling that you have been gifted and blessed beyond what you could have hoped and what you deserve. This is where profound happiness begins to appear.
We open the happiness gap by being consciously deeply and deliberately appreciative of what we already have - the views from our windows, the fact that we are alive, the abilities of our bodies, the people we meet, the new opportunities of every day... There are joys that each of us has by the millions.
I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, whether you celebrated it or not. With gift-giving holidays directly ahead of us, let’s not think about having what we want, but wanting what we have.