By Mark E. Smith
My life has been somewhat extraordinary in that I’ve known both sides of human experience – that is, what it’s like to live with exceptional adversity versus what it’s like to experience great fortune.
However, while my own life has made me acutely aware of extremes, it’s the individuals I encounter that have raised a profound question for me. In parts of my life, I interact with those facing tremendous adversity, while in others, I interact with those of great fortune. Overall, I’ve witnessed that people are people, and no matter how different two individuals’ life paths are, there’s a uniting humanity – people are people.
Yet, I’ve also witnessed a juxtaposition that’s intrigued me. If I shared that I knew a 40-year-old mother with progressing ALS who was bitter at the world because she would not live to see her children graduate high school, we all could empathize with her. On the other hand, if I shared that I knew a 40-year-old mother of great health and wealth who was dedicated to serving her community, we could empathize with her, as well. In both these scenarios, we could say that both women are doing the best that they can. And, indeed, in some form, I’ve known these women – and likewise men in the same situations – many times over.
But, here’s where the intriguing juxtaposition comes in. I similarly meet those facing tremendous adversity – literally that 40-year-old mother dying of ALS – who approaches every day with grace and joy, appreciative regardless of the devastating blow life has dealt. Meanwhile, I encounter those who are extremely fortunate – with health and wealth and thriving lives – who are bitter, jaded, living with a miserable sense of entitlement, as if the world owes them. How is it, then, that someone facing unimaginable adversity in life can live with such grace, while by contrast, I’ve more than once witnessed someone of great health and wealth throw a tantrum over the smallest, most trivial circumstance? How can this juxtaposition logically occur?
The answer is, gratitude. See, gratitude is the great equalizer – and you have it or you don’t. If you have it, it’s irrelevant what your situation is in life, as you’re grateful regardless of any circumstance. However, if you don’t have gratitude, you’ll conversely be bitter and jaded no matter how fortunate your plight. In this way, what life deals us has no bearing on our outlook – unimaginable adversity or great fortune are of no matter. What dictates our perspectives is whether we have… gratitude.
Author Melody Beattie writes, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend….”
Therefore, if we are to understand the true origins of fulfillment in our lives and whether we find true contentment, we don’t need to weigh the scales of adversity versus good fortune. Rather, to understand fulfillment and contentment in our lives, we merely need to consider the levels of sincere gratitude we possess.