“Gratitude can turn common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~William Arthur Ward
Living in India for more than two years now has been an eye opening experience for me, as I’ve realized how I used to take so many things for granted. While growing up and living in my home country (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in Europe, I was lacking gratitude for all the blessings that surrounded me.
While sitting in our penthouse apartment in the New Delhi suburbs, in an air-conditioned room, still feeling the need to chill with a cool water or a mango shake due to the intense heat (which can reach up to 118° in the summer), I could observe the construction ground across from our building.
Constructions workers would come in at 9am and work for twelve hours, with only a short lunch break, without proper safety equipment, chilled water, or any shaded cover to rest.
While they’d wipe sweat from their face, I’d imagine how hot they must be feeling, as I was sweating even in an air-conditioned room.
Some of them were working together with their wives, who would help them earn their daily wage (equal to $1).
These women would carry piles of cement and bricks on big pots on their head, from one side of the construction site to another, sometimes climbing many stairs as well. In my home country, I never saw women working on construction grounds or carrying such heavy loads on their heads.
Their children would play in front of the construction ground with sand and small rocks, as their parents could not afford to send them to school.
I thought about how, in my home country, children often complain that they “have to” go to school and people complain about how tough their jobs are. These people in New Delhi could not even dream of sending their children to school or having an eight-hour job in an air-conditioned office.
The wives who didn’t work on the construction ground would work in our building as maids. One of them cleaned our home. Every day she came in with a water bottle, which she’d cool in our refrigerator, as they did not have an electricity, not to mention a refrigerator, in the slum where she lived with her family.
After cleaning our home, she’d run back to hers with a chilled water bottle in her hands, almost losing her breath, as if she was afraid the heat might warm that water before she would return. Then she wouldn't be able to cool her small children, who were waiting in the heat in a slum without a fan.
Since that day, I never look at the ice cubes in my drink the same way I once did. Ice cubes were just pieces of frozen water, until I saw that for some people, even chilled water is a luxury! Ice cubes are a symbol of wealth and abundance to me now.
I suddenly became grateful for all the things I am blessed with in my life, even the small things, like ice cubes, chilled water, nutritious food, a fan, an air-conditioner, mosquito repellent in the night, clean running water in my home, electricity—not to mention the “big” things, like an opportunity to get educated, to grow up in a beautiful home, which was warm in winters and cool in summers, my job, the power to choose my own husband.
I never thought I should be grateful for choosing my husband. Yet, in a place where arranged marriages are still tradition, I realized that it was a blessing that I was born and raised in an environment where I could fall in love with a man and choose to marry him.
Although arranged marriages do work here, and I see people fall in love after marriage, or at least create a relationship based on kindness, mutual respect, and care, I feel so grateful every day that I had a chance to choose the man I thought was the right for me, with my parents’ blessing and best wishes.
We often take the things we have for granted, yet in many other parts of the world, there are people who would feel blessed and happy if they could enjoy them on a daily basis.
If we just take a look around us we could find so many things to be grateful for.
Some of the practices that can help us to cultivate the feeling of gratitude in our life include:
1. Gratitude journaling.
Keeping a gratitude journal, where we note all the things (or at least three things) we feel grateful for every day, can be a powerful reminder of how blessed we are.
Noting down even simple things—like a delicious dinner we enjoyed, a warm home, a cup of tea or coffee, time spent with our beloved—can be a powerful practice to keep us grounded in a positive mindset on a daily basis.
2. Creating a list of possibilities and blessings.
It helps to write a list of all the things we are blessed with, things we usually see as givens, that in other parts of the world are not available to many people.
So many women around the world still do not have the right or the opportunity to get educated, and so many children cannot attend school or University due to lack of financial resources. According to WHO, 12.9 percent of the world's population (over 1 billion people) is undernourished and will probably go to bed hungry tonight.
Millions of people around the world do not have an access to clean, running water and electricity, which in Western countries we usually take for granted.
Having a roof over our head, a warm room, a meal on our plate, a degree or opportunity to go to University, electricity lighting our home, and cool water in summers are all big reasons we can feel grateful every single day.
3. Shifting our perception.
Instead of feeling sad and frustrated about being single, we can look at this same circumstance from another perspective—as the freedom to be able to choose our partner and wait until we find the right one. This simple shift can help us move from a negative emotional state to a state of gratitude.
In the same way, we can shift our perception of looking at other things, like the job that we don’t like or our living conditions.
When we catch ourselves complaining about housework, we can see it as a blessing that we have our own home and, as a result, clean it with gratitude.
Instead of feeling annoyed that we have to cook dinner, we can feel grateful that we’re able to afford groceries. We can also consider it a blessing that, in this modern era, we do not need to manually wash our dishes or clothes.
When we catch ourselves complaining about the job we hate or feel bored with, we can feel grateful that we have a job and regular income that can pay our bills.
We can also be grateful for small things, like air conditioning in our office, having weekends off, or the fact that we don’t need to be exposed to harsh weather conditions or safety threats every day, like so many people in other corners in the world.
There's nothing wrong with trying to achieve more and move ahead in life, but we can never be truly happy if we do not appreciate what we already have.