CANCER STORY: Success & Hard Truth

The Power of Gratitude


by Emily Walsh, and contributing writer for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance blog

Most of us have experienced that feeling of, “is this all there is?” “Is my life destined for this existence of semi-happiness, constantly chasing something I can’t seem to attain?” It seems that we focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Your new house loses its luster when your best friend moves into a bigger one. Your 3 day vacation in Vermont seems less exciting when you find out your cousin is spending 2 weeks in Fiji. These, of course, are some of the pettiest reasons to feel unfulfilled. It could be much worse. So why can’t we seem to remember how lucky we are when faced with life’s everyday disappointments?

A friend recently sent me a list of powerful “reminders” of how lucky we are to have what we take for granted on a daily basis. Sometimes it helps to have a little perspective:

  • If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world.
  • If you have money in your bank, your wallet, and some spare change, you are among 8% of the world’s wealthy.
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture or the horrible pangs of starvation, you are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering.
  • If you can read this message, you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read at all.
  • If your parents are alive and still married, you’re a rare individual.
  • If you can go to your place of worship without the fear that someone will assault or kill you, you are luckier than 3 billion people in the world.

The first time I read this, I felt a sense of guilt. How could I be so self-consumed? How could I have overlooked these obvious reasons to be filled with gratitude?

I realized that most of my life has been viewed through a peephole, rather than a window. I have spent so much time focusing on how I compare to the circle of friends and acquaintances around me (most of which I am still feel luckier than, but always focus on the few who seem to dwarf my accomplishments), that I lost sight of my blessings as compared to the majority of the world around me. I am lucky and I am blessed, and although I know that I will surely fall into another period of narrow-minded pity in the future, I hope that I am able to see through the weeds of discouragement and bring myself back to this moment of realization.

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.  ~Epictetus