A few years ago, I went to a very prestigious dinner in Los Angeles. There were several hundred dignitaries in the audience, and I’m ashamed to admit I was sitting at the table farthest from the dais, so far I couldn’t see what was going on past the sea of heads. I may as well have been at the Grand Canyon.
I also confess that I was slightly upset because our table was near the entrance to the men’s room, and throughout the evening, there was a constant flow of traffic that intensified when the booze began to flow. I guess someone had to sit there, and I guess it said a lot that I was the someone, even though I had company.
At one point, I started to grumble because I couldn’t see the festivities, and the sounds from the men’s room were a bit distracting. But instead of getting commiseration from my companions, the woman next to me said, “I’m just grateful to be here.”
I was chastened by her response and a little embarrassed, although I can’t say my attitude changed. I suppose I’m an ingrate. I’ve always been one of those guys who wanted to seem more important than he actually is.
About 750 years ago, Thomas Aquinas said the most destructive forces in human nature are the pursuit of money, pleasure, power and honor, and it’s truer today than ever before.
I was reminded of my Los Angeles experience recently when I got some valuable advice that I wish I had heard decades ago. It was this: If you want to live a happy life, compare yourself to the people who have less than you, not to the people who have more than you.
At first that seems callous, but the purpose isn’t to compare yourself to those who have less so that you can gloat and delight in someone else’s misfortune, but rather so that you can acquire two fundamental virtues — compassion and gratitude. If you’re always comparing yourself to those who have more than you in terms of money, possessions, degrees and prestige, you’re doomed to suffer from envy, covetousness (that’s a biblical kind of word) an
d discontentment. So be happy with what you’ve got.
As I was wandering through Grand Central Terminal recently, I passed several holiday boutiques, displaying trendy leather products, gaudy jewelry crafted by Manhattan artists, limited edition chocolates, stockings, scarves and hats.
Then, I saw a kiosk that sold stationery, note cards and diaries. It also had a collection of pads with prints of New York City scenes like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, and at the top of the pads it said, “Today I am grateful for…” And you could list five things.
I’m very familiar with “To do” lists because I carry one with me, and my life would spiral out of control if I didn’t consult it every 35 minutes. But this was something entirely different.
The directions said to fill out the list every morning and carry it around during the day to remind yourself of what you were grateful for.
True spiritual satisfaction comes from what Alcoholics Anonymous calls “the attitude of gratitude.” Cultivating that attitude requires a little thought, a little self-reflection, and a little effort because we’re not accustomed to being grateful as much as we are to complaining, grumbling and losing sight of all the wonderful things God has given us that we take for granted.
As a New Year’s resolution, I’m committed to having an attitude of gratitude, at least for the next 48 hours. I filled out my list and came up with these reasons to be thankful:
• my family (most of the time)
• my wife (most of the time)
• my dog (most of the time)
• my faith and my friends
• my new bowtie (I had to get one possession in there for good measure)
The amazing thing is that as soon as you start to think about why you should be grateful, your life will change for the better. You’ll discover even more things, and you’ll be filled not only gratitude but also generosity, joy and love. When you think about it, that’s a great return on a small investment.
Contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani.com.