Living In The State Of Gratitude
Living In The State Of Gratitude
June 17, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
The only state worth living in is the state of gratitude – W. Wayne Wilson
I have always wondered why my mother, who worked for over 30 years and barely cracked $35,000 a year, always seemed happier and more content than I was, even at the height of my career when I had the most titles and made the most money. I partook of more than my fair share of fine dining and lavish vacations all around the world. I had plenty of stuff and kept up a steady pace with the Joneses. So, why my long face? And with all the external stuff, why the inner void and pervasive feelings of under-accomplishment? Was I one of those “glass-half-empty” pessimists destined to rarely crack a smile? I’ll answer these questions later.
Back to my mother. I think she is the happiest person I know. If gratitude were a state, she would be the permanent mayor, walking merrily through its City Hall, praying for everyone and just being her happy-go-lucky self. To me, gratitude means “great attitude”! My mother has plenty of that, and then some. My mother cherishes everything she has – breath, health, her house, every piece of furniture in it, her garden, her modest bank account, her 401K, her children, her friends, her enemies, her church, America, God’s wisdom, and countless other things that most of us do not give thought to in a single day or even a lifetime. At Thanksgiving, it is always very moving for me to hear my mother give thanks, from the depths of her heart, for all that she has. She always says she feels like a billionaire – if you met her you would be convinced that she is based on her positive energy. Why did her gratitude gene not pass on to me at birth? Over time, I became a very grateful person but it took a long time, on a treacherous path, to get there.
For me gratitude did not come so easily. In many ways, I blame my early corporate exposures for granting me the acquired taste of luxury and the discerning eyes to spot anything less than that. Then, it was about working hard and playing harder; and earning and burning. I had a good job and not having something I could afford then, or later, seemed like unnecessary, self-imposed torture. I bought whatever I liked and lived wherever I liked. Having enough money to satisfy my spontaneous acquisitions only made matters worse. I don’t think gratitude even crossed my mind. And why would it? I rightfully earned the money I used to buy my stuff so I felt entitled to whatever I had – and to whatever else I laid eyes on and liked. Most certainly, there was no reason back then to be grateful. Perhaps I was saving my gratitude for something worth being grateful for, whatever that was.
I remember the first time my mother came to visit my New York City apartment back in the late 1990’s. It was a corner unit apartment, with near panoramic exposures of the city skyline, including the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, The East River and some of the major bridges. I loved it. My friends loved it. She hated it – it was too high up. Too noisy. It had too much glass. She wanted me to pull down the shades. I was like, “Who on earth lives in a New York City apartment and covers up the view that they had to pay extra money for?” I had another visit from my mother, in a different fancy apartment, built by a world-renowned “starchitect”, but she hated that one, too. She did not care if Jesus built it, she just did not like it. It was too minimalistic and it needed more color and privacy – too much glass again. Alrighty then. So my dear mother was not the least bit impressed by the things that my corporate buddies and I would push out our chests with pride over. I’m sure I must have thought to myself “Whatever, that poor old lady has no taste.” In hindsight, good for her. She managed to go through an entire, now almost 80 years, and not have her taste buds contaminated by a craving for luxury or for stuff.
My buddy Jim once told me, “Happiness lies between your two ears.” He continued, “If we can just control our minds, we’ll be so much happier.” I agree. But I added that our eyes are problematic, too. At least my greedy eyes were, prior to my current state of gratitude. About 15 years ago, in the height of my ingratitude, Jim walked into my New York City apartment, the one that my mother was not too fond of, and it took him maybe five or so minutes of observing the place in shock before he opened his mouth and said, “dude, there’s just so much stuff.” And all that stuff had choked the gratitude out of my heart. I do not think I ever once stopped and expressed gratitude for anything that I had. I just remember constantly wanting to do a “one up” on myself.
Part of my wiring when I was younger was based on optimism and the other part was based on stupidity. I felt my star was going to keep rising and that it was perfectly OK to buy art work, furniture, or even a grand piano, if that was what I wanted. I did not grow up this way. My childhood life was very modest. Unfortunately, once your delve into the world of unbridled acquisitiveness, it is difficult to return to modesty on your own volition – you must hit rock bottom first. Worse yet, each additional acquisition returns diminished satisfaction, hence the emotional void.
As is the case for all ingrates, at some point you crash and burn and lose it all. Ingratitude has caused me to lose quite a bit. Being greedy in the stock market made me lose my entire investment. Being greedy about wanting a bigger job, with a bigger pay, made me lose out on some great job opportunities that would have been very lucrative; however, I did not see the potential at the time. During some of my low points, my dear mother who was plodding along with her simple little job was happy as a lark and had more money than I did. Over time, I learned that whatever you do with little is what you will do with a lot. I squandered little and I squandered a lot. And then life’s gravy train pulled into the station, turned off the lights and kicked me off in the middle of Timbuktu. Overall, I went through several years where the blessings stopped flowing and it became harder for me to acquire anything. I had to downsize. I had a couple rock bottom moments. I had to rebuild my life from scratch because of the consequences of my ingratitude. Still, I was fortunate enough to have the resources to reconstruct myself into a more grateful person.
I observed similar traits of ingratitude in some of the people I know. Like me, they always seemed a little bitter because they constantly wanted more – more houses, cars, money, recognition, and assorted stuff. While virtually all of them made healthy six figure salaries, they were compensation rich but savings poor. Again, like me, they did not respect money and so money did not respect them. They also were internally focused and lost sight, and appreciation, for the things that really mattered.
I remember a friend of mine, years ago, who had a solid job, an investment property, hundreds of thousands of dollars in her 401K, a kid in college with a full scholarship, and she lived in a very well-appointed apartment that was rent stabilized. All this might not have been enough by Suze Orman’s standards but even I, in my state of ingratitude, thought she was doing well. She most certainly was doing way better than I was at the time. Nevertheless, every time I would see her, she would complain about her job and how little she was making. The more she complained, life started to take away her blessings – a no-good boyfriend racked up tens of thousands of dollars on her credit card, stole money from her and then disappeared. Her son dropped out of college and she had to pay back all the scholarship money. She started having medical issues. There was a fire at the investment property. Her salary dropped for the next couple of years. Her weight ballooned. She got audited by the IRS, and the list goes on and on. One day I said to her, “Now you have something to complain about; however, I would not complain if I were you because you still have a lot more that you can lose.” Eventually, she stopped complaining and her life is now flourishing like never before. Between my own bad experience with ingratitude and the experience of my friends, at some point I knew I had to change.
My mother reads the bible and prays a lot. I had read the bible when I was much younger but had not touched it since. As part of my desire to be more grateful like my mother, I decided to read the bible and pray more – not to ask God for things but to give thanks for what I already had. I remember making a pact back then that I would never ask God for anything other than health and wisdom. I have been pretty good in keeping that pact. In reading the bible, I came across the book of Ecclesiastes. In Chapter 2, verses 4 through 9, the author describes how he was a great man of wealth who had homes, servants and vineyards. In verse 10, the author declares that “And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor.” In verse 11 he continues: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” I remember those words being like light to me. They awakened a clarity in my mind that I had not experienced before. My life felt like vanity and vexation of spirit. It lacked purpose. I was too inwardly focused and externally blind and disconnected. Surely, I was not here on earth to just acquire stuff.
Over time, I began to recognize that, as my mother seems to have known for all these years, complaining makes you poor while gratitude makes you rich – and happy. No wonder my mother is always so happy. She is high on gratitude and low on greed. My mother also recognizes that wisdom is the only asset that does not depreciate, which is why she spends so much time acquiring it. So, gratitude came into my life right on time, before I destroyed myself with greed. I can safely say that gratitude saved my life. Today, I am genuinely excited about everything. The sun, the moon, the stars, and breathable air. I am grateful for our military men and women. For fresh running water. For light. For technology. I appreciate my trifecta of Apple products – IPhone, IPad and IPod. I just know that I say “thank you” a lot more to God, the universe, and to people. I recognize that everything that I have and experience is because of someone else’s efforts. The components of everything I eat were manufactured by other people. I am grateful for pilots, train drivers and bus drivers. I am thankful for where I live and the clothes I wear. I am thankful for garbage removal and snow removal. I am thankful for ATM machines, the internet, and my cell phone service. I am thankful for the media, entertainment, the news, the post office and even the DMV. Everything. On top of all of that, I am alive and healthy and doing exactly what I have always dreamed of doing. I feel like a billionaire. And if you met me, you would be convinced that I am. Sounds like I have finally become like my mother – and that’s a good thing. A great thing, actually.
My challenge for you today, it to think about everything that is going right in your life and to take the time out to give thanks for them. Tell someone how grateful you are. Once you start to audibly proclaim gratitude, and to visibly plant its seeds, then your happiness quotient will begin to grow. Enjoy your day.