A stepping stone path between wheat stalks.

Be grateful, but don’t settle

Being grateful for what we have doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for a better life. It’s always okay to improve our lives according to what’s most important to us.

Sometimes, our lives are abundant – filled with love, happiness, and fortune. Other times, they’re not. Most of the time, we teeter-totter in between. Wanting life to be better or different doesn’t mean we’re not grateful for where we are right now.

Wherever our lives are at in a moment, it’s important to recognize what we have. Make a list, even. Let’s jot down all the stuff that composes our lives, starting with our basic needs – food, clothing, and shelter – and moving through all the small and grand aspects of the daily grind.

But “what we have” is not just material stuff. It’s also our relationships, experiences, and understanding. It’s all the stepping stones that paved our journey thus far and all the opportunities that lay ahead.

It’s easy to forget how many people and experiences have shaped our lives. And it’s not just the victories or catastrophes – the extremes or grand gestures – that got us where we are today. Life is mostly an amalgamation of subtleties. Daily habits. Patterns of thinking and behaving. Frequent exposure to environments and people.

And if our lives don’t look the way we’d like them to, it’s easy to blame the extremes and subtleties, and the environments and people, for our dissatisfaction. Instead of nurturing the warm fuzzies about everything we have, we fuel resentment that boils inside us and spews out of our eyes, hands, and mouths, spreading like wildfire into our environment and affecting others’ lives.

At that point, it’s easy to curl up in a ball and claim victimhood, declaring that the world is cruel and everything bad happens to us. We’re helpless and hopeless, and it’s not our fault.

It’s unlikely that we’ll feel grateful when we’re at the bottom of a well lamenting over life’s wrongdoings.

But we build such wells of despair with the stones that are thrown at us. We are the architects of our lives and responsible for recognizing that such stones have other uses. Instead of building walls to shut out the world or wells to indulge in bottomless pits of misery, we can use the same stones to lay paths. Paths of our own making. Arranged with the debris of life’s happenings.

All life’s events are stepping stones that can serve as checkpoints for reflection. And gratitude is a reflection that is both empowering and humbling. Gratitude reminds us that we always have all we need to be happy. It also reminds us of our interdependence with each other and life.

Let’s pause on this stepping stone and be grateful for where we are – whether we’re struggling or striving or somewhere in between. Let’s use gratitude as a torch that lights up the dark places so that we can venture into the unknown future with love and curiosity. And let’s be thankful for the opportunity to align our lives with what’s most important to us.

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