Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.
― A.A. Milne, ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’
I was, once, a virtuoso complainer, a post-graduate fellow in whineology. If grumbling classified as an Olympic sport, I would have been a starter on the U.S. team. I might have medaled, too, though I suspect that I would’ve moaned incessantly if my place on the podium was anything but the middle.
Then I learned to protest less and enjoy more. I learned that I had a choice. I learned that gratitude counted as a discipline we forget to practice, elusive but important enough to tip the attitude scale.
Life, with its corresponding mix of blessings and disasters, proved to be the master teacher. On my way to maturity and middle age, I endured loss. And frustration. And rejection. But along with the heartbreak, wedged between moments of grief, laughter dwelled. Love, too. And success. And sweet beginnnings.
I decided to focus on those, namely because I’ve never been good at the role of martyr. And one more thing: appreciating what I had, when I had it, made me feel way better than the soul-sucking act of moping.
We’re smack in the middle of the giving season, a days-long celebration of stuff and more stuff, all conveniently accessible at stores or online. We’re surrounded by a material and festive bounty that is impossible to ignore, an abundance that can make us feel guilty and sad and, yes, envious.
It’s an easy time to waste energy desiring what we don’t have. The neighbor’s luxury car. The friend’s ski vacation to Aspen. A colleague’s rise up the ranks. Anything and everything. The gratitude muscle — well, it can atrophy when we think everyone else has more and better or when we feel left out and deprived.
This year someone near and dear to me feels trapped in a rough patch, unable to identify and value all she has. She sees the proverbial glass half-empty when I urge her — actually, I browbeat her — to consider it half full. There is so much to cheer, so much to applaud, if only she could see it.
Sound familiar? Of course. We’ve all been there and done that. I like to think of it as part of the human experience, a despair that burnishes the soul in preparation for the contentment (and gratitude) that follows.
"You can be happy or not," I tell her. "You can torture yourself with what you don’t have or enjoy everything you do have. You decide."
A decision, an adjustment, that’s all. Yet, we all know people stuck on scowl. Those who prefer to lament instead of rejoice, who think life has passed them by without recognizing that it’s knocking at their door, asking to be welcomed, to be celebrated. They don’t necessarily have less or worse, these folks, only a blinding inability to cherish the good in their lives.
In that wonderful collection of stories about Winnie the Pooh, bouncy Tigger is shamelessly happy and grateful. But Eeyore, oh Eeyore! He eats thistles and wears gloom like a halo. I choose not to be an Eeyore. I have grandchildren I adore beyond reason, friends worth a king’s ransom, a husband who thinks I’m the cat’s meow, a large family that is entertainingly dysfunctional and a job that teaches me something every week.
Life doesn’t get any better than that. Then again, it just might.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.