We have likely all been reminded, or forced, to be, or pretend to be, grateful and thankful in our lives. At times, perhaps as a child, it may have seemed silly or even incomprehensible. After all, gratefulness is a trait we pick up a bit later in life. As a child, we might be happy that something happens to us or we receive a nice Christmas present and we go through the motions of saying thank you or writing a letter of thanks (depending on the kind of parents we may have had) in order to learn to be thankful for all we get. To a child, most of the time, the notion is slightly alien. We’re exposed to third-world countries and short documentaries and appeals for charities saying how some kids need to walk a thousand miles through shark-infested swamps every day in order to bring back some water in a thimble to quench the ever-growing thirst of their entire family and we just can’t seem to empathise properly with that scenario. Perhaps it’s because at a young age, we simply lack the experience of misery, and subsequently can only think in a shallow manner about the degree of others’ pain. It’s like how when you get told about the billions of stars you can see in the night sky, and then you get told that our galaxy – which is all you can see in the sky – is only one of many more billions. You think “oh, that’s big, I guess.” You cannot fathom the sheer scale of those figures; your brain just can’t quite get there, it can’t compute the immensity of those numbers and quantities. Perhaps now and then, you might feel an overwhelming sense of awe and shock at the notion, and it disappears before your head implodes. Those glimpses are powerful perspectives when you want to feel completely helpless in the enormity of our universe. In a way, it’s similar to those who haven’t experienced tremendous sadness or woeful conditions of life can find it difficult to understand the suffering of others. Hence why children are the most likely to lack that kind of empathy, although not without exception. It’s simply a statistical certainty that misery is less likely to have befallen an individual the less the individual has lived.
The reason we tell hatchlings about people in far worse conditions is to get a response of gratefulness out of them, which in turn can teach humility and other valuable virtues. Commonly, however, it can simply result in dreadful feelings of guilt and shame instead; guilty to have more than someone else without deserving it, simply because one was born into better conditions than their third-world confrère. Essentially, some would make us feel ashamed of being born. It may be useful to remind you that this is not a viable way to proceed with raising future generations.
Of course, some take these lessons on board, and others don’t and people’s levels of gratitude are based within a wide spectrum. Perhaps it is paradoxical that the more one can empathise and feel bad for others and grateful to exist in less misery than they do, it may indicate living circumstances which are actually worse than one who feels less relatability to their suffering brethren, which stems from more of a reason to be grateful. Of course, this is a mere observation and by no means can be projected onto everyone. In any case, forcing people to feel bad has its merits, but also its fundamental flaws
As we grow older, the reasons for being ungrateful morph into something else, it would seem. As we’re mostly unbraced for the weight of the misery which will end up crushing us at some stage, when that shitstorm of agony does eventually crash down upon us, we might be more able to find common ground between those who are worse off than we, but simultaneously, we become less grateful for our existence because we’ve had to wade through knee-deep life-turd in order to achieve that level of sympathy. Thus, we may decide that we hate life, everything about it, and we’d rather have nothing to do with it anymore, in extreme cases.
Moreover, to whom can we write our thank you letter? For those of us who don’t require the ritual of prayer, there seems to be nothing there to thank for it all, if we were so inclined. Should we thank our ‘lucky stars,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean? To whom do we owe everything?
Perhaps we owe it all to our parents. After all, they made us, and that is a universally applicable statement. On the other hand, they are also probably responsible for all the terrible things that happen to us and our problems we have in our own minds especially. Either by being absent, by not being bothered with us and depriving us of attention, or being too bothered with us and suffocating us with attention, or by being abusive or being protective. No matter what, parents have a near one-hundred percent chance of messing up their children. Some people just take the stance that being born was never their choice anyway, so everything is the parents’ fault. Of course, it’s unlikely that you were birthed specifically to spite you, but there are some strange people out there, and I feel sorry for a lot of them.
Now we’ve established that everything is your parents’ fault, we can move on to taking responsibility. Read more blog posts to find out more about those notions. As much as the act of them having mated and brought forth you has doomed you and sentenced you to death by life, you are also going to make some terrible choices which will haunt you afterwards. You are going to suffer for your own actions and decisions as well.
Despite all this tragedy to which we’re subjected simply by being alive, can we still find it within ourselves to be grateful just for being permitted to exist? Well, it may be hard at times, certainly, but not everything is two-dimensional like that. For every time you’ve had to face difficulty, you’ve learnt something. If you’ve made a mistake and you know for certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you’ll never make the same mistake again, then perhaps, in a backwards way, the mistake was worth making. We rarely listen to people who have made mistakes. We so often find it compulsory to try out things we know we shouldn’t, to push boundaries and test limits, even if we discreetly know that it’s a bad idea. So at least by that form of suffering, we’ve not only spared our future selves suffering for the same thing, but we will have also changed as a person.
With each shipment of sorrow, our heart hardens just a little bit more, our eyes become steelier and more sagacious. We train ourselves to watch out more, to be more vigilant, to not let the potential for more harm come our way. With each new burden, our backs and shoulders broaden and we become more capable of handling greater and greater loads. All the suffering that you do will strengthen you, in time. Once your character becomes tougher, perhaps you will be able to look back and realise that all the problems you’ve had to face have just left you a better person. Now, the obstacles that used to be insurmountable are tiny in comparison to your immense form. There is little that will slow you down now, so maybe, just maybe – although you didn’t see it at the time – you can be grateful for all the woe that came your way, because it made you better.
From such a perspective, we can maybe see each new challenge, each new threat, every tragic result, every calamitous backhand from fate as a long-term gift. Not everything will seem like that at the time, most likely; it might appear to be impossible to be thankful for hardships without becoming a masochist, but take on the stance that in time, you may see value in the struggles you face now. It’s optimism, yes, but not stupid optimism. It’s based on what you already know, deep down. Go through the suffering now and strengthen your resolve for the future.