What does giving thanks actually mean? What does being truly, deeply grateful do to people?
We are so busy living our lives, facing our challenges, that we often forget to stop and be truly powerfully, and deeply grateful for all the things that we do have, for all the things that we take for granted, but we absolutely shouldn’t.
If you think about it, and if you do some research, you realise that you are in a very, very fortunate position. You are in the very small minority of people who can afford to do the things that you do. According to Giving What We Can, using their How Rich Am I tool, if you have a combined household income of £60K and have two children you are in the richest 3.8% of the world population.
Yes this might take into account third world countries too but we don’t have to go far to see that we’re extremely lucky. We don’t need to go to third world countries, we see many much less fortunate people in our own streets. Homeless people are everywhere and, whilst it’s easy to think that ‘that’s their choice’, ‘they choose to drink their lives away’, ‘they choose not to work’, many of these men and women actually found themselves in these situations before they could realise they were heading there. If you stop and talk to them, you find that some of these people have stories that are absolutely devastating and you realise that this could actually happen to anyone, even you.
I was out with a friend on a drunken night out a few weeks ago. As Massimo is busy ordering a burger from the van, I get chatting to this homeless guy. “What happened to you? Why are you in the streets?” And he goes on to tell me that his family had left, his wife and his two kids. They had left after he lost his job. The going got really tough, they got into frequent and hard arguments and at one point his wife couldn’t cope with the situation anymore. She took the two kids and left the country. ‘John’ looks at me and says: “I didn’t know what to do, I started drinking. It seemed like the only place where I could find peace, where I could find silence. And then, before I realised it, I wasn’t able to come out of it. Lost my job, lost my house, I lost the will.”
Same with health. You don’t have to go far to see people who lost their limbs or mobility in accidents. Some of these people go on to do amazing stuff that many ‘healthy’ people will never do:
- Stephen Hawking who had ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) did most of his remarkable work whilst affected by the condition.
- John Nash who had Schizophrenia from just after college and still went on to become one of the most renowned mathematicians.
- Kyle Maynard, born without any arms or legs, went on to become an award-winning mixed martial arts athlete, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro without prosthetics, he is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. and is a motivational speaker for the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, amongst other accomplishments.
There are many more who did amazing things with physical, psychological, or circumstantial disadvantages. Most of them are not in public eye but they exist. It’s not just the few famous ones. These people pushed through pain and hardship that to most of us in imaginable. These people didn’t complain. They took charge. You don’t do that without taking charge.
Yet, sometimes we let arguments with our friends, with our partner, with our clients, affect our moods for days, sometimes weeks. We let a punctured tyre upset our mood. The man that cuts us off on the road, the little scratch on the new car, the internet not working. We let those things drag us down, take our happiness and energy. We let these events affect us and those around us. Fuck those petty little hurdles, we will overcome these.
Put things into perspective and these things have little or no power on us.
Sometimes I stop and think: ‘What if I get a phone call and my wife tells me that one of our kids in severely injured? What if the police calls me and tells me that they were all in a fatal accident?’. My fingers shake as I even type this shit! I think about these things rarely, when I catch myself being pathetic, complaining about petty things. Then I open my eyes, and I know that I’m not in that situation. And it’s a bliss. Just like you are a horrible dream and you wake up to realise it was all dream. This is what I call prospective.
We must take time out to feel grateful for what we have today, we might not have it always.
I have this routine which I do 90% of the time. When I go to bed, I just take five minutes to think of all the things that I’m grateful for. I don’t just think about them, I try to feel the feelings these things give me. I think about anything from being able to feel my wife’s shoulder, her skin on my skin when we lie in bed. I think how lucky I am that I have this person that I admire, respect, and love right there next to me. Not everyone does. It isn’t guaranteed. I am not entitled to it.
I think about beautiful kids that we have, the fact that they are healthy. I think of the fact that, possibly down partly to luck and partly to genes, I am a decent father to them, able to teach and love them. Not everyone does. It’s not guaranteed. We’re not entitled to it.
I touch the mattress and I give thanks for the fact that I can afford to have that under my body, and a roof over my head. Many do not have these, they are sleeping in the streets as I things those thoughts. I thank the people in my life, I am grateful for anything, even the Gandinis and the ‘my fathers’ of the world because they shape us, they open the door to the next level.
Be grateful for the things that you have, for the coffee that you drink in the morning, the legs that carry you, the lungs that breathe and all that you have because you know what: not everyone does, they are not guaranteed, you are not entitled to these and they might not always be there.