"I always listen to the news in the morning, so I can get upset about something," my neighbor says almost enthusiastically during a short conversation in which she stands on the
sidewalk and I'm driving by, letting my car window down. I laugh silly, as one does at such a moment. But as I drive on, I can't get her words out of my head. Geez, what's wrong with us
humans? Why do we always want to get upset, write hate speech on the internet, envy someone or criticize how other people live, think or believe?
In all my travels, I've learned one thing above all: gratefulness. For not having to live in a corrugated iron hut in a favela, for not having bombs falling on my house and for having enough food. For the fact that I have the privilege to travel the world, for being to work from the road, for having friends and family I can return to at any time. But also for the fact that the poppies in my garden glow at sunset, a buzzing bumblebee outside my window woke me up yesterday, and it always smells marvelllous after the summer rain.
But I have also seen dear people die, have an incurable, chronic illness for five years, and have friends who had to endure everything from a miscarriage to a cancer diagnosis. So I could really hate life instead. But I've decided I'd rather be grateful. Here's why:
"Now tell Mrs. Schneider thank you!" Three adults are staring at me. I'm seven years old, incredibly shy, and I just got a stuffed animal from our neighbor. We are standing in the stairway of my apartment building. My parents are right next to me, looking expectant and reproachful. I'm totally happy about the gift, I smile, but I don't quite understand why these two words are being demanded of me now, when I am obviously grateful, and hate talking to people I don't know that well. Especially when everyone is staring.
Gratefulness doesn't work on demand or under duress and is much more than saying the words "thank you".
This is something I didn't realize until much later in life. It's not something you should squeeze out of yourself or others just because it is polite. It should come from the heart. And if it
doesn't come from the heart, maybe you shouldn't say it at all.
"Gratefulness", moreover, is not just a word, it is first and foremost a feeling. And you can express it with words, but also with a smile, a gesture, or a favor. There is no single, correct language for it. That's why you should listen and look for all kinds of signs of gratefulness in others before you miss them.
Let's be honest, sometimes complaining feels satisfying. Grumbling about someone, about the weather, about politics, about your bank balance, about a stranger on the internet. We
all do it at times. I don't know what it is, but especially in Germany, complaining is almost a cultural UNESCO heritage. Which is interesting, considering that Germany is one of
the richest, most modern and safest countries in the world. One might get the idea that this doesn't have that much to do with overall happiness. Mh.
In the end, everyone has to find out for themselves what makes them happy - but being more grateful and less upset is a good start, in my opinion.
But isn't it that you can only be grateful when everything is awesome in life? When everyone is healthy, you have enough money and every day is a breeze?
Of course, it's not easy at all to be grateful when something terrible has just happened to you. Unfortunately, I can tell quite a story about that. But there's always this one thing, no matter how small, that's still beautiful. Even in the biggest fuck up.
When I think of my grandma's funeral, I don't remember the dark hole in the ground, I remember the brimstone butterfly fluttering past the chapel as we walked to the dark hole. I remember the blue sky and the sound of the wind in the birch trees. Despite everything that had happened, I was grateful for this beautiful summer weather where my grandma would have been reading outside on her swing - and for all the great times we had together.
It's what we focus on. And sometimes that focusing takes all the energy we have left. And sometimes it's too much to ask. But it's worth it to keep trying. Because gratefulness for all kinds of things, big and small, makes you light and liberated. I makes you understand and appreciate what you have and had and not angry about what you don't have or had.
Gratefulness opens your eyes and heart, hatred makes you blind.
Can you learn being more grateful? I think so.
For example, by spending less time on things that upset us. Instead of listening to news that makes us angry, we can go for a walk and enjoy nature. Instead of posting hateful comments, we can scroll on, put our phone away, sit in the sun with a canned beer and be thankful and happy about the good weather. Instead of listening to someone who is telling us what's all wrong and bad, we can hang out with people we can laugh with and who support us.
We can consciously look at small things in everyday life and be happy about them. The cat in the window above the bakery, the ladybug on the leaf next to the bus stop, a child eating ice cream, or a car driver letting an old man cross the street. And perhaps we can consider what we ourselves can do to create such moments for others.
Why? Because everything we do and say costs us lifetime. And lifetime can't be bought, replenished, or earned. Every minute we spend thinking that something sucks, saying
something ugly to someone else, or getting upset about the same things over and over (without changing them or being able to change them) is lifetime we could have spent doing something
Let's spend more time being grateful for all the small and big beautiful things around us. In good times and in bad times - because they are all part of our lifetime.
Some time ago, I tried to write a guide to happiness. It is certainly not a "bible" you need to cling on, but food for thought with questions to get on the track with your own happiness: Joy of life - Hurray! A guide to happiness.