“Happiness isn’t about getting what you want all the time. It’s about loving what you have and being grateful for it.”
I Got 99 Rich People Problems, and Paying the Bills Ain’t One.
For my 16th birthday, my father bought me a brand new, pearly white Ford Mustang. And what did I do? I threw a fit! Not the appropriate type of fit, which would have involved excited squeals and tears of joy. No, I was furious. I wanted the black on black, super power, fully loaded, convertible GT Mustang. I firmly believed that I, as a 16-year-old, deserved to have that car, and I vowed, in protest, to never drive the inferior one my father bought me.
Looking back, I want to slap that privileged, spoiled, entitled brat right across the face with her Gucci bag. I want to yell at her and say that there is more to life than what car you drive. The truth is, though, at 16, I wouldn’t have listened. Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since then. I didn’t need to be slapped to eventually understand the concept of gratitude. Through my experiences in life, I’ve learned what I really needed to value, what really matters.
Life taught me the hard way through death, heartbreak, and the loss of meaningful relationships that there is more to life than material objects. And not getting the exact car you want is no cause for a strike or a tantrum. Looking back, I see all too clearly that I had no good reason to be pissed at my parents. But I didn’t see it that way back then. I had no idea how appreciative I should have been and no concept of how good I actually had it.
Before I learned how to be grateful . . .
I valued the latest trends, jewelry, and designer handbags. I worshiped at the altar of Prada, Gucci, and Fendi. This all makes perfect sense. I grew up in Miami, where people’s value is measured by their net worth. I hardly ever heard the word “No,” and whenever I did, I knew it would eventually turn into “Yes.” Within two weeks of my not-so-sweet-16 temper tantrum, I was cruising around in my black on black GT Mustang convertible, oblivious to what an asshole I was.
I valued superficial objects because I thought they were what gave me value, made me important, and would get me respect. As soon as I bought one thing, I was over it and wanted more and more. I was never content, never satisfied. I lived like a person with insatiable hunger, staying famished even after a Chinese buffet visit. Although I had everything I thought I needed to be happy, I wasn’t happy at all. Thankfully, my values have changed quite a bit since then, and I’ve become aware of the fact that material objects don’t bring true happiness. To learn this, I had to question why everything felt so good at first but quickly stopped bringing any satisfaction at all.
Changing Your Perception
“You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.”
Dr. Wayne Dyer is famous for saying, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I had to be willing to change my ideas about what is important in life. At some point in all our lives, we have to face the type of person we are in order to become who we want to be. We have to evaluate our beliefs—which doesn’t necessarily mean changing who we are—and decide what will serve as the foundation for our identity. I needed to change my beliefs and evaluate the things I was truly grateful for, and I’m not alone in this. Growing up in a superficial, instant-gratification-based, materialistic culture, you inevitably get the message that material possessions determine your value. You think you have to strive for more, always aiming to have the nicest car, clothes, and jewelry. I lived this way for many years, but it wasn’t me at my core. Somewhere past the spoiled aspects of me, there was a girl who wanted love and acceptance. I valued the material because I thought that was the only way I would have worth. I believed that was the only way people would like me. I had to change that perspective of my worth and know my value apart from the material. I also needed to start learning the power of gratefulness. Unfortunately, being grateful often doesn’t come easily to those who receive things easily. When something comes to you without effort, it’s hard not to take it for granted. And we all have something we take for granted daily.
The Decision to Be Grateful
“You can think about gratefulness …as a state of being, a kind of frontier, a measure of the intensity of your presence and the ability to occupy this edge between what you think is you and what you think is not you, and to BE that conversation.”
Being grateful and appreciative is a decision. It’s a conscious choice I make every morning. No matter what happens I’ll find something to be grateful for. I believe that every individual on the planet has things to be grateful for and things not to be grateful for; the trick is deciding what to pay attention to. It’s like the saying, “It’s not happy people who are grateful. It’s grateful people who are happy.” I know plenty of people with great fortunes in their lives—and I’m not talking only about money; I’m talking about family, friends, health, and freedom—who are not only ungrateful, but just plain miserable. Just as gratefulness is a choice, so is misery.
I knew I needed to change my behaviors when my personal experiences stopped matching what society told me was “supposed” to make me happy. So I made a choice to select the things that made me happy—for example, family, friends, education, helping people, giving back, reading, working out, etc. I chose to make a career out of what was in my heart, instead of what would buy me a better car. I’m so happy that I finally “got it” and stopped pursuing more. Instead, I pursued other interests and understood how to appreciate the value in what I already had.
No matter who you are, where you come from, or what your status is, it’s easy to forget to be grateful for what you have. We’re always looking for the next best thing, wanting what other people have so badly that we become blind to what’s right in front of us every single day. It’s hard to admit, but it took me about two months to get bored with my Mustang; I soon wanted a Lexus. But I now know that the secret to happiness isn’t in getting more stuff that you’ll eventually find boring. The secret is being happy, grateful, and thankful for the stuff you already have. It’s great to have goals and to strive for accomplishments, as long as you remain in a place of gratefulness every moment along the journey toward getting there. You have to live in this moment, not tomorrow or yesterday. Be okay with what you have now. Think about it. What are you grateful for?
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier