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Liana Bakker

2 Lessons I learned About Gratitude from the Tragedies of Others

gratitudeIn December 2012 my office building caught fire.

It was stressful.

At 8:30 in the morning I arrived at work to see firemen rush into our unit to cover all of our stuff with plastic. My office was untouched by the fire but the water was starting to seep through the ceiling.

I, the receptionist and the doctor whose office I shared, were allowed in to grab what we could carry. We had to get out and stay out until they said when (or if) we could go back, to get the rest of our belongings.

The day was frantic. The evening before, I had been given a cease and deist letter over my business name so my stress level was already high. The day involved cancelling patients, calling the lawyer, figuring out where I could set up a temporary office and quickly going to pack up my stuff.

As I drove round that day taking my stuff from place to place I listened to the radio. Each time I got in the car for my short drive the radio host made a remark about being shocked, horrified or speechless.

I wondered what was going on but was too busy going here and there as well as answering and making phone calls that I didn’t have time to look any deeper.

On my way home I stopped at my Grandmas house. I knew she would take me in last minute and feed me. Grandmas always have good food and I was starving! It just happened my parents were visiting.

I told them all about my day and then asked about theirs. But they didn’t about their day. All they could say was that they couldn’t stop thinking about the terrible thing that happened.

“What the hell happened?” I said. “I’ve been hearing people talk about it all day but I have no clue!”

December 14, 2012 was the day of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Connecticut, 27 people were dead including 20 children.

“Oh. That really is horrible”

After staying for a bowl of grandma’s tasty soup I went home to shower and unwind.

I sat down at the computer to look at the news and I just started bawling.

My heart ached.

Almost 5000 km’s (just over 3000miles) and in a different country but that doesn’t matter.

I had been on edge all day and this set me over. I sat there crying for about an hour.

Then I started to feel guilty, guilty that I felt so bad for myself, guilty that I was now worried about having to pay for Christmas presents. Guilty that I felt so bad for myself, yet these people would be burying for their children just before Christmas.

This was a feeling that was hard to shake. I should be feeling grateful.

And I was. I was grateful, I tried my best to stay positive and stayed focused only on decisions that needed to be made immediately.

I was in a car accident 5 days later and then I had a true change in perspective. I was alive. I was okay.

So here’s the lesson #1.

Always be grateful for what you have. Somewhere someone in the world has it worse than you. There are people all over the world that would wish to be in your position. (well most of you anyways). Always be happy with what you have. It could always be worse. Be grateful, be grateful, BE GRATEFUL!

A day had passed and I still was feeling pretty bad for myself.  But now I was feeling guilty as well.

My problems were worse and I was feeling more stressed out. However, I couldn’t help thinking that I should be happy with what I have and just thankful to just to be walking (even if it was with a limp). I felt guilty that I even felt bad.

Just what I need. Now I feel stressed out and guilty…fantastic.

Logically I knew this was silly. My guilt doesn’t help anyone.  Just because someone else is suffering doesn’t mean I have to.

Determined to shake off my unjustified guilt for having life well others died I decided to meditate on it.

Then I remembered a weekend course I took a few years ago. It run by a local family doctor. She also had a business counseling people and running seminars on how our emotions affect our health and wellness.

I had gone in an effort to help neck pain and headaches. My neck bothered me since I was a kid but after 2 years of studying for massage therapy school, the pain had become quite severe. (Ironic, I know.)

There was a room full of women. All there for something in particular. We all had a turn saying what we hoped to get out of the weekend.

Then moments as the Doctor started the seminar a woman at the front began crying. When asked what was wrong she said that she felt like she was pathetic.  Four seats over there were two women bald from their chemo therapy. They both had breast cancer. She was there because she wanted to lose 10 pounds she gained after her and her daughter had a falling out.

One of the women with cancer walked up to her and said “Your struggles aren’t any less important than mine. They may not be as hard as mine but they are still important. I don’t look down on you for wanting to improve your life”

So here is lesson #2…

It’s ok to have a crappy day. It’s ok to feel bad. It’s not a contest.  It’s not a competition to see whose life sucks more and then the winner gets to feel bad for themselves and everyone us has to suck it up and pretend nothing’s wrong.

When something happens, something crumby, take a moment to be grateful. Take a look at people that would be thrilled to be in your position instead of their own. Use that to motivate, to move further.

But that doesn’t mean that your feeling aren’t valid. Sometimes when you have problems friends and family try to point out a silver lining or tell you about someone that is suffering worse than you. It’s all an effort to help you feel better but it doesn’t work.

This doesn’t mean that you can just sit around having a pity party for the rest of your life.

Take a moment to recognize your feelings and sort through what you need to, then be grateful for everything you have.

Unless you are actively taking things away from others your good fortune doesn’t contribute to someone’s misfortune.

Your well being doesn’t make another ill. Your happiness doesn’t make another unhappy.

Did you gain any insights?

Have you ever done something like this before?

Did you forget to be grateful for what you have? Or did you feel guilty for having more than someone else?

Let me know in the comments below


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