The Law of Gratitude

by Michael McGinnis

Life provides a wonderful range of possible experiences for each of us. What we make of them largely depends on our attitude, not our intelligence. The law of gratitude says that we are more aware of the positive aspects of any situation if we keep an open heart.

When I taught in Africa I was living at a boarding school with an enrollment of about 600 students. The inflation rate was about 100% per year, so the prices of everything, including food, rose steadily. The school depended on the school fees paid by the parents to buy food to feed the students. But with the high inflation, it was very hard to find, much less afford to buy, enough food to keep the school going. By the last few weeks of the term, the school only had enough food left to be able to give the students one meal a day. But there was no complaint. The students felt fortunate to be able to finish the school year, and come that much closer to completing their high school education and having some chance at getting a job or going to university.

Though conditions were challenging, the feeling among staff and students remained positive, and any opportunity to help themselves was seized. One day I returned home from classes at lunch time. Several school staff and students, waving sticks and machetes, chased a large rat past me. It ran into the covered rain gutter that led into the courtyard of my house. Perhaps it knew that I did not eat much meat and was hoping for sanctuary. The pursuers asked to go in my house so they could catch the rat. We went in; they flushed the rat out of hiding, killed it and departed, cheering! with their luncheon meat. Those guys were grateful to have come across the rat, they weren't complaining about the limited food that all students were receiving.

Having and expecting a lot of material things makes it more difficult to find contentment with having just enough. Many Canadians have become used to programs of assistance from the government, and assume these have become rights because they have been supplied for the last couple of decades. So any cuts, such as those needed to reduce government deficits, become occasions for complaint. Whether a situation is one for complaint or appreciation is a matter of perspective. One could realize that, even with possible reductions in government assistance programs, there is still much to be grateful for in Canada.

My African companions already knew what I had to learn when I went to Africa; the ability to be reasonably content with very modest material wealth. I had to decide whether to complain about what I didn't have, or learn to be happy with what I did have. This is a lesson more easily understood in a place like Africa where wants and needs are often very different. At a time in Canada when material wealth may be harder to come by, and government spending cuts affect many in the population, all the more reason then to look at the many blessings we enjoy and appreciate them once again.

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