I've always envied people who can say, “I am blessed.” To be honest, they annoy me. They annoy me because I’m convinced they have something I don't have — more savings in their 401(k), more successful kids, an Audi SQ5 SUV with Quattro four-wheel drive, a luxury Swiss watch like a Patek Philippe and a job where people are appreciated, respected and overpaid.
I suspect what they actually have is a different outlook on life. Comparing yourself to others can lead down the road to envy, covetousness and a lot of negative thinking that prevents you from appreciating all God has given you. You’ll spend your nights awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering why your daughter didn’t get into Harvard Law School when your next-door neighbor’s kid did. Or why she came in third place in the pre-school dance competition instead of first.
God, of course, has a way of putting it all in perspective. On a day when I was feeling sorry for myself, I met a guy who was about to lose his job, then I met a woman whose pay had been cut 30 percent, then I met a fellow whose son had to undergo psychological tests because he was getting into fights with other kids in kindergarten and then I met a man whose wife had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
It became quite obvious that God was really trying to tell me something: Stop whining and be thankful for what you have. Count your blessings. And pray for those who need help. At one point, the fellow who was going to lose his job and was fighting with his wife about how they’d support their family said to me, “I’m blessed.” To which I wanted to respond, “You’re nuts.” I just couldn’t see things the way he could. Life seems to be divided into two groups. Those who think they’re blessed and those who get satisfaction complaining about what they don’t have — instead of rejoicing over what they do have.
God blesses us in different ways. My flaw has always been comparing myself to the person who has more than I do instead of comparing myself to those who have less. There are others with much less than we have who’d be grateful for only a small portion of our prosperity.
My father, who was a recovering alcoholic in AA, would often say, “You have to develop the attitude of gratitude.” I’d sheepishly nod my head in agreement, still wondering how I could get a Chevy Camaro to replace the battered Ford Fairlane with body rot that I drove to high school. If I had that Camaro, my dating life would vastly improve. The cheerleaders would look at me. Yes, so many wonderful things were contingent on that one possession.
In later years, my aspirations changed. My life would be better if only I got a promotion, a larger house, a hair transplant.
Something strange, however, happened over Christmas, sort of a spiritual illumination like Scrooge had. One morning while I was looking out over the snow-covered White Mountains, I asked myself, “What more do I need?” The answer was quick in coming: Nothing. Then, I asked myself, “What more do I want?” That answer was somewhat complicated, although much of what I want I certainly don’t need. Separating our wants from our needs is a big step in learning how to count our blessings.
One of my daughters always wants more, and she has been getting it in her career and personal life. She hates to admit that she grew up in a Cape Cod with one bathroom shared by three sisters, a mother, a father and a collie. Despite her successes, there’s an underlying dissatisfaction, because she has yet to realize all our longing is ultimately spiritual longing that can’t be satisfied with possessions and earthly attractions whose luster quickly fades.
Dad was right. The attitude of gratitude is an absolute necessity for joy and peace, regardless of your circumstances. The only thing we take into the next life, a friend once told me, are acts of love, not the tax-deductible donations, not our possessions, not our diplomas and citations, but genuine acts of love that require sacrifice.
Understand that principle and you’ll be able to sit down and count your blessings and truly say, “I am blessed.”
Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.