How lucky we are

May 4, 2007 | 9 comments

I’ve been pondering the topic of gratitude lately. In particular, I’ve been thinking a lot about my lack thereof. For example, when I was telling my husband about Heather’s story as I wiped tears from my eyes, I almost made the statement, “It makes you realize how lucky we are, how very small our problems are.” But I stopped just short of saying it, since I’ve come to see lately that that’s not true. Whenever I make statements like that I always realize how astoundingly wonderful and easy my life is…for about two minutes. And then I promptly go back to grousing around about things like the barking dog next door and the huge mess I have to clean up in the kitchen.

So anyway, an incident occurred last night that was the last straw. I really need to work on this area of my life. It’s such a staggering example of just how much people can take for granted that I just have to share for your amusement and pity: some outstanding bills at our business got settled, and my husband came home with a stack of checks for me to endorse. None of the checks were for huge amounts ($26 here, $8 there), but they were made payable to us nevertheless. I was exhausted and eager to get into bed, and after the first few I started huffing and puffing and rolling my eyes at what an inconvenience this was.

Complaining. About. Receiving. Money. Yes, folks, evidently I can complain about anything.

So, expect to read more on this topic over the next few months. My goal is to actually internalize and appreciate the beauty and blessing that are all around me, instead of making fleeting comments like “makes you realize how small our problems are” while actually spending much of my time fixating on said small problems.

After some prayer on this topic I feel like I was directed to the Litany of Humility, so I’m going to start there, but am open to any suggestions anyone has. Also, am I the only one who ever does stuff like this? What is the craziest thing you’ve ever been ungrateful for? 🙂


  1. marc

    My wife and I have been known to complain about the large amount of taxes taken out of (unexpected) bonus checks from work.

  2. Stephanie

    I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Uncle Screwtape when he talks about how humans love to imagine that time is their own, and so they have this idea that the one hour of church that is required of them is something God should feel grateful for, and anything extra He should be REALLY grateful for, because rather than seeing it for what it is (us offering back what is already a gift to us) we imagine it as deserving of gratitude from God, rather than the other way around.

    I try to remember that when I have a day completely free from any obligations, and then my dad calls me up and asks me to do some quick thing for my grandparents (who live next door). My first reaction is to gripe and complain…and then I try to remember that the time I have is a gift, and on the whole I have a LOT of free time, and I really can’t complain about going to help my elderly grandparents for a bit!

    Gratitude is definitely one of those things that is sooooo easy to let slip by!

  3. Margaret in Minnesota

    You’re asking for the one crazy thing that I’ve been ungrateful for? Every time I’m whiny over the awesome gift of staying home with my five children, I think that’s crazy. Every time I complain about having to put away all the delicious groceries I just purchased, I think that’s crazy. Every time I feel abandoned after supper because my husband wants to go play catch with our two sons, I think that’s crazy.

    Except, you know what? At the time that I’m feeling all this ungratitude, it doesn’t seem crazy or unreasonable at all.

    So. Long story short: I think that selfishness is a factor but also fatigue and loneliness. Most of the time (for me) a little bit of love and attention goes a long way. My little tank gets filled and I’m off to share the wealth.

    PS. Going to Mass helps tremendously as well.
    PPS. Oh, and I nominated you for the Thinking Blogger award here.

  4. lyrl

    I’m not sure what level of life satisfaction Jen is aiming for. It might be helpful to read about “hedonic leveling” or the “hedonic treadmill”. This theory explains that people have a set happiness point, which may temporarily be changed by life events, but that they always return to. I think the largest study exploring this theory was of 24,000 Germans over a 15-year period (link). The summary focuses on life satisfaction levels and marriage, but I believe the study also found that people with major negative life events (such as becoming paraplegic) also, after a few years, returned to their pre-accident happiness set point.

    It is false but very common belief that life circumstances have anything other than a transient effect on life satisfaction. This goes for people in such difficult circumstances as Heather. And this also goes for people with astoundingly easy and wonderful lives like Jen. It is simply not human to be in an eternal state of either gratefulness or disaffectedness for one’s circumstances.

    Well, that was a lot of writing without any helpful suggestions. I do believe it’s possible for a person to permanently change their happiness level. I don’t believe that focusing on trying to be grateful for material possessions is likely to work. But, I don’t have any solid advice on what will work. I think prayer is a good place to start though: “Who rises from prayer a better person, her prayer is answered.”

  5. Joanne

    I am embarassed to admit that I have complained about the house that I’m now living in. It is the rectory for the church that my husband is priest at (Episcopal) – so we didn’t have any choice about where we would live. The house is not my style, it’s single story, I would not choose to live in this neighborhood, etc.

    My husband got this job (and we moved into this house) 7 months after we lost everything in Katrina. I was 6 months pregnant and we had been living on charity since the storm. Why do I care so much that this house “isn’t my style”? I should be thankful for the generosity of the parish that took us in & glad that we’re not living in a FEMA trailer with a 10-month-old!

    A sincere attitude of thankfulness is not as easy as it sounds, at least for me.

  6. Jennifer

    Is it too Libertarian-Republican of me to think we get a special dispensation for complaining about taxes?


  7. Tienne

    Hoh yeah! All the time. I think I’m one of the most easily annoyed people on the planet, so I often complain about things like gifts (oh man, now I have to find a place to put this!) and being treated to dinner (sigh, traffic’s always so bad at 6 pm!) It’s a disease, I tell you!

    Honestly, though, I don’t think it prevents me from being grateful so much as it keeps me from being childlike and joyful. I like your challenge! Complain less. Smile more.

  8. Peter

    I am reading G K Chesterton’s biography of St Franicis, in which he says in his characteristic brevity,

    “Nobody deserves a sunset.”

  9. UltraCrepidarian

    It’s been bothering me for days. There’s a SCRATCH on my BRAND NEW CAR, where somebody who I don’t eve know keyed it. That was so much worse, somehow, than my old crappy car being stolen. Funny how that is.
    I’ve been locked in angry-mode for days.


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