it’s a dog’s life: another post on gratitude

Photo: Sound asleep and snoring.

Sound asleep and snoring. It’s a dog’s life.

Watching my kids’ puppies gnawing away on their chew toys last night, I wondered if they spend any time in wonderment of their good fortune. Do they ever think, “Woohoo, I won the doggy lottery! How did I get so lucky”?

Both were rescued, saved from neglect and starvation, and then adopted by my kids. They have the love of children, other dogs to play with, a big yard, a house to sleep in, and full bellies. It is such a different situation from where they came from that I found myself pondering whether they remember and think about the contrast.

Of course, then I immediately thought, “Do I fully appreciate my situation? Do I think about what could have been or spend any time wondering, “How did I get so lucky?”  Sure, I like to think I work hard and make reasonably good choices, but I had nothing to do with when and where I was born and raised. Being born into a stable family, in a wealthy country, during a time of little conflict and good medical care, having access to education, and never worrying about having enough to eat kinda gives a person a running head start at life. An enormous part of the world’s population spends far too much of their day just trying to survive until the next. Too many don’t enjoy basic human rights or rule of law to protect them. Too many go without education, food, or even just clean water.

I don’t know how to ease suffering or create prosperity for billions of people. I can’t fix anarchy and tyranny. I’m unable to prevent brutal attacks on people caught in the crossfire of long running conflicts. I can’t erase envy, greed, and corruption from human nature. I don’t know how to correct the world’s problems or balance out inequality or make sure that children don’t go hungry.

Thinking about that contrast, I feel – I believe – I owe the world something in return for my good fortune. There’s so much I can’t do, but I can put love back into the world. I can raise my kids to understand that ethics and personal responsibility are far more important than short-term happiness and instant gratification. I can do work that is meaningful to me and has a positive impact on others. I can try to find ways to bring out the best in myself and those around me. I can be grateful for my situation and remember that no matter how bad my day gets, it’s not really all that bad – there are several billion people who would trade places in a heartbeat.

Most important, I can make sure I’m not squandering the advantages and blessings I’ve been handed.

What thinks you?




life’s not fair

My son, 1st grader that he is, was moping along as we walked across a big parking lot to get something out of the car. Playfully I said, “C’mon son, head up shoulders back, walk like you’re going somewhere. Life’s good, let’s rock!”

“No, it’s not.” He responded. “Life’s not fair, so it can’t be good.” That kind of stopped me. Then I thought, how often do kids hear or tell each other that “life’s not fair” when they complain that they can’t get something they want? They hear it so much that there’s little reason for them to doubt it.

What I didn’t tell him, but he will start hearing more often is that perhaps life isn’t fair, but complaining about it doesn’t do any good and all any of us can do is start where we are and work with what we have.

Further, statistically speaking from a global perspective, life may not be fair and – like many of us – it’s probably not fair in his favor. Born in a first world country in a stable, educated, two-parent, gainfully employed household, healthy, attending a good school system, etc., etc., and etc. is, statistically speaking, a huge leg up on a large percentage of the world, and a decent head start  over even many of his peers. Heck, eating breakfast every morning will give a kid a statistical advantage.

Realistically, if you’re reading this you’re probably in the same boat in that you’re literate, have access to the internet, have a little free time, and likely aren’t spending your day struggling to find clean water or enough calories to keep you alive. The problems you face are at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, not the bottom.

Interesting though, is that we tend to judge ourselves against people similar to us. This means that, we don’t compare ourselves with the entire planet, only the few people we know. We can be very well off comparatively (e.g., indoor plumbing, central heating, and air conditioning, reliable transportation, etc.) and feel very poor. Studies have shown that, illogical as it seems, people would rather make less overall money as long as they were doing slightly better than their peers. That is, we’d rather make $60,000 in a group where the average salary is $50,000 than make $70,000 in a group where the average salary is $80,000. We have a hard time understanding our absolute blessings, but are pretty astute at recognizing our comparative blessings.

Son, recognize your advantages, count your blessings and practice deep gratitude, and always, always strive to make the best of any situation. Life isn’t always fair. Everyone’s got issues, everyone’s got wounds, everyone’s fighting their own battles. Judge your success based on your own dreams, effort, and potential rather than comparing yourself others. You got it good, kid. Now go make it better.

And put your head up, shoulder’s back, and walk like you’re going somewhere.