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Practicing gratitude in a world full of adversity

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


Sitting in Nessa’s, a fellow old man told me of a conversation with a neighbor, whose nonagenarian husband was sinking into dementia. My friend sympathized, and suggested that, even so, the four of them should get together for happy hour soon. His neighbor agreed, adding, “But these days we call it ‘Gratitude Hour,’ we’re so grateful to still be here.”

Practicing gratitude matters.

Yeah, life is tough. Time and age are merciless. So is capitalism. We are not only short-lived and insignificant beings clinging briefly to the edge of one of zillions of planets, but in our work, our diet, our health, our recreation and entertainment, we are at the mercy of vast corporations which use us as they can. Too, our world has closed in on us: the days when young persons could flee a dull or difficult home-life and hometown for the frontier died a century ago.

So what’s to be grateful for? We’ve each been granted a life. A span of years, with this marvel, a mind. A series of individual moments. Each moment, while we live it, is all there is. The past is clouded and no future is guaranteed. We build a life from that series of moments, by how we handle them. Just as many moments full of laughter and love carve a face with laugh lines, repeated moments of anger and envy carve a different face, unless we are Dorian Gray. And, more importantly, time carves our inner face accordingly.

It is not our good or bad fortune at work, or even in love, that determines such matters. We do. Each moment, even when we are not paying full attention, we choose.

Perhaps this is all taurine manure. Although I’m far from rich (or young, beautiful, or famous, nor can I dunk a basketball), chance has granted me a relatively comfortable existence. I do not live in Yemen or Gaza or Putin’s Russia, nor am I an untouchable in India or a Rohingya trying in Burma. I am not the friend who has been so devastated by Alzheimer's that she plays with her feces. I have a home, health, and something to eat. I do not have to work as a greeter in Walmart.

Yet we are all doing better than many and worse than many, in this way or that. That can anger us or simply amuse or bemuse us. As science and religions point out, it will pass. In a world of more fear and intolerance and greed and prejudice than we might wish, it’s essential not to take those qualities inside ourselves, as weapons with which to respond to life’s slings and arrows. Doing so only poisons us, without making us any more effective. Rather, practicing gratitude, not anger and envy, lets us consider each moment more clearly; and it may rather disarm others.

We chatted on radio recently with a wandering monk. When we asked, he said that he welcomed people’s intolerance, or other difficulties, as opportunities to strengthen his inner peace. While most of us are not wandering monks, we are always building or maintaining our ability to negotiate this very challenging game called life. Just as playing tougher opponents improves your bridge or pickleball (or football and video-game skills), we can use each experience, particularly the hard ones, to develop the muscles that let us do what needs doing without being distracted by others’ misconduct toward us.

Peter Goodman’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.