Today, I had an ungrateful heart.
I woke up late and rushed through my morning routine in order to make it to work on time. Once I got to work, I sat at my desk and began to feel the temperature steadily rise in our office throughout the day; the AC had gone out today of all days, the day that campus was closed with no one there to fix it. I was ungrateful.
Over my lunch break, I decided to drive downtown to get a drink to take back to the office. I sat on my hot leather seats that stung my legs and tried to use an air conditioner that wouldn’t run fast enough to keep up with the heat outside. I mutered under my breath as sweat poured down my face and my hair curled due to the humidity. I could taste that my pop had become watered down due to the intense heat melting the mound of ice I had just put in it minutes before. I cursed my car and its old age. I cursed my increasingly bad day. I was ungrateful. See the pattern forming?
Ungratefulness rots a person’s heart. I know it certainly hurt mine today, and I am not proud to admit it. Instead of looking at the numerous upsides to my day, I chose to look at the negatives simply because they were staring me in the face. By choosing to focus on the negative, I chose to be unhappy. I chose to let myself become irritable and complain about petty things.
To me, it’s obvious that there is a correlation between being grateful and being happy. David Steindl-Rast agrees. In his TED Talk titled “Want to be happy? Be grateful,” Steindl-Rast suggests that gratitude gives way to happiness. If we truly look around us and view our circumstances with a grateful heart, we will feel happiness. According to Steindl-Rast, we must view every moment as a gift with opportunity attached to it. Each of us has the power to make or break a situation; we can chose to look at the positives, or we can chose to dwell on the negatives. “The master key to happiness,” says Steindl-Rast, “is in our own hands.” YOU are truly the master of your fate. You can control how you feel.
But how do we harness this? How can we truly live a grateful life? Steindl-Rast puts it simply: we must stop, look, and go. We must truly stop and assess our situation before deciding if it’s “bad,” because how often do you actually stop and process something before complaining? I know that I tend to not wait very long before launching into a series of complaints (especially today). We tend to miss out on opportunities because we don’t stop and realize them. Steindl-Rast suggests putting up both mental and physical stop signs within our lives to put our head and heart back into focus. Once we stop, we must truly look and try to see the upside to each situation. By forcing ourselves to look deeper into any given situation, we are able to find that maybe we don’t have it so bad after all. Finally, we must go, and act upon those positive vibes. Most times, the “go” portion will leave you feeling grateful and allow happiness to spring up within you. This cycle is important to us; we must put up stop signs, both physically and mentally, to force ourselves to really look at a situation for more than what it appears. After all, a faucet is just a faucet until you realize how privileged you are to have one. Children all around the world will go thirsty today while you become increasingly impatient waiting for the water streaming out of your faucet to get cold enough for your preference. Perspective is huge. Remember that.
When I first watched this TED Talk, I felt myself recoiling a bit. I am a grateful person, I thought. I always say thank you and try to let others know how much I appreciate their help and generosity. But, after watching, I realize that gratefulness is so much more than a simple thank you or hug. Gratefulness is looking at both seemingly bad and good situations and seeing the bright lights and opportunities within them.
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Sure, it was hot and humid in my office today. But, I was in that hot, humid office because I was graciously offered a job that allows me to work 40 hours a week throughout the entire summer. This is something that most college students only dream of. This job allows me to return to school in August feeling confident that I can pay my rent, utilities, and semester bills to the college for the next year without having to take out a loan. This job allows me to have peace of mind and financial stability. For that, I am grateful.
Yes, my leather seats were scorching hot today and the air conditioner in my car is old enough that it didn’t kick in on my drive. Yes, I got a little sweaty and the ice in my Dr. Pepper melted by the time I got back to work. But, I have a car that I can safely drive around in without having to worry about getting stranded somewhere. That car has allowed me to drive thousands of miles to go see friends and family all over the state. That car has transported me on snowy, icy roads home to see my family and has allowed me to make it to countless basketball games that my little brother played in. Many kids my age don’t have the luxury of having their own car, yet I do. For that, I am grateful.
For all of this and so much more, I am grateful. I choose to be grateful. I choose to be happy. I choose to live life with an attitude of gratitude. Today and always.