For many years I have periodically offered assistance to a woman in my hometown who would otherwise be unable to completely care for herself. She suffers from bipolar disorder, morbid obesity, chronic arthritis of her knees, and a general sense of victimhood that prevents her from ever taking responsibility for her own decisions. She hasn’t held a job in years, and there’s no way she ever could. She’s only sixty-three years old, but she acts twenty years older.
Recently I accompanied her to the Social Security office, where they planned to conduct a review hearing to determine whether they would continue to send the disability checks she depends on. After waiting for some time, we participated in the hearing, which went well, but during the interview it was discovered that an additional interview would be required, to determine what Social Security benefits she should be receiving and how those would affect her disability payments.
We were told that we’d have to wait another forty minutes or so to see the next counselor, and again we began our wait in the lobby. After only five minutes, the counselor came to the door and called my friend’s name. We went back through the maze of offices, but before we began the interview I said, “First I’d like to complain that we didn’t get to wait nearly long enough.”
The counselor looked at me as though I’d lost my mind, so I continued, smiling all the while in such a way that she would know I was joking with her: “When we sat down in the waiting room, we were told that we’d be waiting for forty minutes, and you came to get us after only five, so I just wanted you to know that I’m a little disappointed that you were so fast.”
She smiled and said, “We don’t hear many complaints like that.”
“That’s my point,” I said. “People always complain when they have to wait too long, so it’s only fair that I complain when I have to wait too little.”
“Well, thanks for your complaint,” she said. And she couldn’t have been nicer to us throughout the interview.
Most of us tend to be very quick on the draw when complaining about what we don’t like or screaming about things that aren’t “fair,” but we’re not nearly as vocal when things do go the way we’d like, and that’s a huge mistake. When we fail to give equal emotional weight to the good things in our life, we miss much of the pleasure we might have enjoyed. There’s another way to say this: When we fail to be grateful, we can’t be as happy.
We’re surrounded by opportunities to be grateful and happy. They’re everywhere, and we’d enjoy our lives so much more if we’d simply notice them. When you’re in traffic, instead of fussing about the delays, be grateful that you have a car at all, and that you’re not walking. When you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, quit griping about the wait. Take a book and be grateful for the quiet time you have for reading. When a loved one dies, of course you’re sad at their loss. But don’t spend the rest of your life grieving about it. Be grateful for the love and joy you did share with that person.
The opportunities for gratitude are everywhere. Enjoy them — and, while you’re at it, express them to others. People love to hear them.
Replace your complaining with gratitude and happiness.
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