If you think your life is nothing but problems, consider this account from the self-help book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, first published in 1948. The narrator is recalling her struggles as a young mother in the 1930s. The economy was in bad shape, her husband was in poor health, every day seemed to bring new trials, and she had reached the point of literally wanting to die, when:
I heard someone singing an old hymn [on the radio] … As I listened … I realized that I … had tried to fight all my terrible battles alone. I had not taken everything to God in prayer. … I wept and prayed all the rest of that day. Only I didn’t pray for help—instead I poured out my soul in thanksgiving to God for the blessings He had given me … I promised God that never again would I prove so ungrateful
Do you make a point of being grateful for the blessings in your life—or do you deny you have any blessings at all? What about your children? Your health? Your home? Food and clean water? Education and all its benefits?
Even if you lack some or all of the above, it’s not fair to blame circumstances for “making” you unhappy. People have learned to be happy in prisons and hospital beds, in war zones and refugee camps. And people have achieved all the trappings of power and wealth, only to find themselves more miserable than when they had little.
If you still feel your problems outweigh those of all your acquaintances, here are a few hints for cultivating the gratitude habit.
Little children are born optimists: they haven’t learned to be cynical or see life as monotonous. Instead of discouraging this tendency, let them teach you a few things. Invite them to play a game of naming things they like in your house/yard/neighborhood. Count the number of times they laugh in a day, and try to match it yourself. Join the kids in a wild romp or a silly song.
The main reason people wallow in self-pity is they feel entitled to lives free of frustration and inconvenience—and they convince themselves everyone else already has as much. Everyone has problems, and yours aren’t unequalled or unprecedented. Those neighbors whose “perfect” lives you long to live may have secret struggles you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. And if you look objectively at your own life without comparing it to some imagined ideal, you’ll see how small your problems really are—and how great your blessings.
This can be anything from helping your neighbor weed a garden to volunteering at a food pantry: anything that provides opportunity to see firsthand that others have imperfect lives, can improve them, and are smiling through the problems.
Working together to improve an imperfect situation will get everyone smiling more, via the positive energy generated by camaraderie and caring. Involve your whole family if you can: that way, you’ll carry home some extra positive energy as a group, which should maintain everyone’s joy and gratitude levels for a while!