I really do want to be a grateful person and in particular, a grateful daughter to my loving, kind, well-meaning father. I also know that gratitude is well established as essential to mental health. Yet sometimes I find myself astonishingly ungrateful.
This past week my dad came to my house with some of his workers to put in a patio for me. He did this at his own expense and using his own time and even his own sweat and hard work. This is my dad’s way of showing his love for me—by making my house more comfortable. In this case, by creating an outdoor space I can use.
I am ashamed to admit that I spent too much of the week bemoaning my small duties in the process, my house being taken over (when had a cold and and wanted to rest and work on my to-do list in peace). I kvetched about how the project was my dad’s vision and not my own. Sure, there’s something to my gripes—maybe its okay to feel annoyed when one wants one’s house to oneself, especially if one is under the weather; maybe it’s reasonable to want full discretion on one’s own house projects; but big picture, what an ingrate I was.
A paltry defense is my tendency to overreact to situations, mini-crises, and set backs that other people seem to be able to just roll with. At one point I felt like I was on the verge of breakdown. Depression is notorious for doing this to people. I can blame my mental state, but being ungrateful and peevish is still an ugly attitude and can lead to less than gracious words.
It took a comment from one of the hardest working men I’ve ever met to shake me out of my self-absorption. In this country he is far from his family, but he says he is not lonely or unhappy. He works extremely hard six or more days a week, but is sure to take a day off to go fishing. Sometimes a customer will complain about the work, knowing he has no recourse (and he does gorgeous work) and refuses to pay. He said, he just walks away and moves on and does not even dwell on it. What a contrast to my petty complaints. He takes enormous pride in his work is usually well appreciated and in high demand, and this gives him pleasure. He is happy to send just about every penny home to his family in Central America, and lives extremely frugally in one sparse room. This is a man who knows how to be grateful.
He said he used to get down when things went wrong, but then he began to go to church and found Jesus. Even the colors in his dull bedroom, he said, seemed suddenly vibrant. As I listened to him describe his transformation, I knew I couldn’t say what he’d hoped for me: that I’d try Jesus, too. I won’t. But I could see how having a sense of higher purpose had brought him true peace and happiness. As a spiritual person, rather than religious, my path is perhaps not as clearly marked. But I am grateful to be reminded of my commitment to my own path and to practice gratitude.