You’d think it would be easier to be grateful when times are good. It’s actually easier to be grateful when times are bad because the good stuff becomes easier to see and appreciate. When times are good, we can take things for granted.
Or worse, people can feel they’re entitled to good fortune. They believe they deserve their success because they worked hard, are more talented, or were brought up the right way. If others are struggling, it’s their own fault or because of some inherent flaw.
I’ve worked hard in my life, but I also benefited from being born as a certain gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation in a specific country at this moment in history. If any of those factors were different, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have today. As I look at the horrible events around the world, I realize I could be one of those trapped in those situations.
I also see how quickly things change, like when my mom had a stroke. Turn on the news, and you can see how once respected people face humiliation, destitution, and incarceration because they made a bad choice or fell into the wrong crowd. One small mistake, one lapse of judgement, or one instance of unfortunate timing can make good times turn horribly bad. Success often comes from pure luck.
That’s why gratitude is important, and it must be accompanied by humility and empathy.
Humility reminds us we’re not better than others because of the good things we have. They are gifts to appreciate because we know they won’t always be there.
Empathy reminds us that others are denied the good things we currently enjoy and how easily we can find ourselves in the same dire circumstances. Amid our plenty, we should reach out to those who have little.
This is why our natural reaction to gratitude is sharing. When we graduate school, get married, have a new child, or accomplish some other major achievement, we want to celebrate with our family and friends. When we advance in our career, we want to mentor others and help them move forward. Selfishness stifles joy. Self-aggrandizing isolates us. Generosity lets happiness grow. And by giving to others, we encourage them to help us when we need it.
Be grateful in good times and bad, share what good fortune you have, and be empathetic to those who are struggling. An attitude of appreciation makes living more joyful and worthwhile.