So I wanted a car to replace my 15-year-old Honda with more rust than body, with failing springs (which feels like driving with cinderblocks for wheels), and not one but two broken taillight covers. When I shared this with a cruel narcissist from my early life, I was told to be grateful that I had a car at all.
“You could be riding your bike everywhere or buying a bus pass every month,” he said.
It was this person’s way of shutting me up, and at the time, it worked. (It would not today.)
“Just be grateful for what you have”
When we express a hope or goal, if there’s someone, even ourselves, in our brains saying, “Stop with the wanting…you should just be grateful for what you have/where you live/the job you’ve already got…” we stop hoping for something more, and often feel embarrassed at our “greediness.”
This is not a gentle suggestion to be grateful. On the contrary, it’s a strategy for shutting down our hopes and aspirations, a way to humiliate us for wanting more. It’s telling us to focus only on what we have and ignore the rest with a slapped-on happy face (the kind we don’t ever wear, beautiful someone).
We’re made to dream
As I said in my book, Dream Come True, we are made to dream and to strive. Take that away from us, and you take something as essential as oxygen. This is one reason lottery winners are at an incredibly high risk for depression as their winnings take from them the need to work and strive and create. A 2015 Camelot Group study found that 44 percent of large lottery prize winners were broke within five years.
Five years. Broke.
Plus, because they lose touch with the people they love — friends, coworkers, and even family members they feel they can no longer relate to or trust — they experience greater rates of depression, substance abuse, divorce, and other calamities than the population at large.
We’re made to dream. We’re made to have goals, grow, and reach for more.
We can do both
The massive shortcoming of the suggestion to just be happy with what you’ve got and stop wanting more makes being grateful preclude having hopes and goals. Not only does it shut us down, it fills us with guilt for expressing our dreams for a better future or even just a different one.
But the truth is: we can do both. Wanting something doesn’t mean we’re ungrateful for what we have. We can be grateful for what is, and still have hopes for the future. We can be grateful for the job we have and still strive for a better one with more challenge and potential. We can be grateful for where we live on the way to an even better living situation.
Gratitude is a very calming mindset. It helps us relax as we feel like what we have, what we’re doing…it’s all enough. We may want more, but we don’t need more.
And ironically, when we relax, our approach to improving our lives by reaching for something more is calm and focused rather than desperate and impulsive. The steps we need to take to reach a new goal are easier and even more enjoyable. The dream feels less elusive because it is.
And so, gratitude is hope.