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Remembering to practise gratitude

Thursday November 28, 2013 Written by Published in Raro on my mind

Yesterday, America celebrated Thanksgiving. The occasion has little bearing on the rest of the world (aside from triggering a spike in commercial activity, which of course has global implications), but the meaning behind it is universally relevant and internationally important.

Thanksgiving is a day for reflecting, appreciating, and counting blessings – things that we, all of us, should be taking time to do every day. We should shift our focus from the things we don’t have – the cars we want but can’t afford, the friends we miss, the magazine-cover bodies we’ll never attain – to the things we do have – a friend who listens, a pay cheque every fortnight, a breathtakingly beautiful island to call home. When we realise how fortunate we are, we stop wasting the time and energy it takes to envy others and pity ourselves.

Indeed, myriad psychological studies agree that “happier” people habitually list (mentally or on paper) the reasons they’re thankful to be alive. I think of an artist and evangelist named Joni Earickson Tada, whose story bears witness to the enormous power of gratitude.

When she was in her early 20s, Joni was in a diving accident that left her paralysed from the shoulders down. Devastated and depressed, she begged to die. But at some point, she chose to be thankful, to appreciate her blessings rather than despair of her misfortune. She chose gratitude.

“I remember that my hospital bed was situated near a window in the ward that I shared with six other women and I used to thank God that I could see the moon at night and that my room was situated near a tree so I could watch the leaves blow in the wind,” Joni has said. “Little things, small things, began to matter.”

Life, as a result, began to matter. Joni taught herself to paint, using her teeth to hold a brush. She became wildly successful – her artwork gained national acclaim, she became a motivational speaker, she wrote books, and she achieved celebrity status.

And so today, in the spirit of thanksgiving and in light of Joni’s story, I think today we should remember to appreciate the little things, things we can’t buy but are worth more than anything we could.

Things like the sea, aptly described by Tongan writer Epeli Hau’ofa as “our pathway to each other and to everyone else our endless saga our most powerful metaphor”.

Things like the stars, those timeless beads of light that remind me, every night, of my human smallness and transience, and that I am part of something bigger.

Things like trees that keep us breathing and rain that washes our world. I am grateful that every day I have food to eat, clean water to drink, and legs that walk. I’m grateful for every person in my family, every one of my friends, and every stranger who’s ever shown me kindness.

I’m grateful that, in a world full of doom and gloom, beautiful people with selfless hearts exist. I’m grateful that I have people in my life who inspire me, who discipline me, who keep me accountable, encourage me, love me, and make me laugh.

I’m grateful to be alive.

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