I went swimming yesterday. In the spirit of full disclosure, I mentally whined that the temperature of the water was too cold. So self-absorbed in my own world of complaint, I failed to notice the chair next to me. I plunged in and began my laps. Swimming has a way of either causing you to ruminate – running the hamster wheel in your brain or gain clarity. You’re thinking as you glide through the water. You might be thinking about things you have to do, solving a problem, or receiving a moment of clarity.
My moment of clarity came as I glanced over to the lane next to mine. A man was swimming, moving through the water using his upper body, pulling his non-moving legs behind him. I flashed on the chair and realized it was a wheelchair belonging to this man in the next lane. I felt a twinge of guilt having complained about the temperature of the water, when the man next to me, without use of his legs was doing laps.
Most times we need a stark perspective check causing us to reflect on the circumstances of our own lives. Reminding us how trivial many of the things we complain about are in comparison to the things we should be thankful for. On any given day, I hear a lot of groaning and complaining. I am responsible for doing some of it myself. While there is a quantity of complaints, I think about their validity. We fuss about our food, our weight, our family, our neighbors, our clothes, our minor aches and pains [Read: you fill in the blank]. We complain about the state of our country – without being thankful for our freedom to do so.
In the U.S., we celebrate one day a year called, Thanksgiving. The day when we should be reminded about our thankfulness. It is a time when family and friends gather around an enormous meal having permission to eat large quantities of food and complain about it later. Yet much like celebrating Columbus Day, it is an embellished, mythical story about the Native People and Pilgrims coming together in celebration, breaking bread. In truth, the Native People had a harvest celebration and culture of thanksgiving long before the Pilgrims arrived. Sixteen years later, those thankful Pilgrims would massacre an estimated 400 to 700 Pequot women, children, and old men. It is no wonder that Native People view Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning – providing us an alternative perspective.
We are given perspective checks everyday that should jolt us into recognition of our good fortune and our need for thankfulness. We have all seen the homeless, the hungry, the war-torn, those struggling with cancer, Alzheimer’s, or other challenge. We may be included among these ranks – and still, despite these misfortunates find gratitude.
Thankfulness is more than a word. More than a fad. It is a powerful emotion, affecting the chemistry in our brain. When we are thankful, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin that make us feel good. Thankfulness brings out the better angels within us and cultivates the best version of who we are and who we should be. If we can be reminded of expressing thankfulness, perhaps from the moment we open our eyes from slumber, we’d gain a perspective of gratitude.