On Being Grateful

What are you grateful for?

I asked myself that question on Saturday night as I sat huddled around a camp fire with friends breathing in the crisp air of a Scottish glen.  How often do we stop and thank fortune for the lives we live?  When was the last time you felt grateful, truly grateful?

I was lucky to have been born in a country where a relative freedom and equality affords me the luxury to make choices.  I am not one of the 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 a day or the 1.1 billion who have inadequate access to clean water or the 800million that go to bed hungry each night.  I am one of the lucky ones but it’s all too easy to forget it.

The psychologists Shane Frederick and George Lowenstein wrote about ‘hedonic adaption’, the feeling we get after working hard to get what we want only to lose interest in the object of our desires.  Lottery winners after an initial period of exhilaration quickly end up about as happy as they were before.  They start taking their new Maserati and beach house for granted, the way they previously took their beaten-up Ford or tiny apartment for granted.  That new iPhone isn’t quite as bright and shiny as it was when we first took it out the box and we long for the next gadget.

Therefore it is useful to periodically stop, take stock and be grateful for what we have.  The Stoics philosophers including Senece, Epictetus and Chrysippus used a technique called negative visualisation.  They spoke about remembering when you kiss your loved one that he or she is not mortal and not something we own.  In the very act of kissing your lover, child or parent we reflect on the possibility that they (or you) may die tomorrow.  This may sound morose but I challenge you to try it and see if the depth of your feeling to that person changes as a result.

Can you imagine your life without your friends, family, home, job, possessions and health?  What are you grateful for today?

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love” – Marcus Aurelius

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