It is not difficult to imagine the vast number of people who are feeling darkness, desolation, disgust and despondency in their lives these days. We are battling a once in a century world-wide pandemic which has infected millions and will likely snuff out the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americas by the time it is over…if it is ever over. We are living, or perhaps just surviving, in an era of hyper-partisan political rancor that has well-meaning people wondering why they should even bother to vote for politicians whose overall approval ratings and trust are lower than the proverbial used car salesman. It is a time when we are witnessing the resurgence of racial enmity, division and violence that begs the question about just how far have we actually come as a civil society and what became of the inspiring words Emma Lazarus composed for the base of the Statue of Liberty? And it is a year when prosperity has turned to poverty for millions of people who have lost their livelihood, their ability to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their families and who understandably doubt if and when their personal recovery will ever occur.
Simon Sinek, a British-born American author and motivational speaker, says “People who wonder whether the glass is half empty or half full miss the point. The glass is refillable.”
So, the question must be asked, how full is your glass and what are you doing to refill it?
We all face challenging times. Most of us are confronted by the ugliness that we see on cable news or the front page of our local newspaper. Others of us face our own difficulties in our personal lives because of economic stress, family tensions, workplace issues and a myriad of other doubts, disputes and demons.
Those who are inveterate optimists would describe their life’s glass as half full. While the pessimists among us see their glass as half empty. But if Simon Sinek is right and our glass is truly refillable then the question for each of us is how do we fill it to overflowing? Perhaps the tap that needs to be opened widely is the one marked attitude. But not just an attitude that helps shape our frame of mind or our disposition. What can fill our glasses to the brim is an attitude of gratitude.
How then, in the face of all the burdens we bear, do we become grateful?
The place to start is by acknowledging that however difficult life seems to be for so many of us, if we could be completely honest, we would admit that we really have a multitude of blessings in our lives. If we have clothes to wear, a roof over our heads, protection from the elements, food on our table, those who care for and about us and in turn those we care for and about, relative health of body, mind and spirit and access to medical care when needed then we need only call to mind those who lack some, or worse yet, all of these blessings.
If the pandemic has curtailed the activities we enjoy and the gatherings we long to take part in then we need only think about those who stand at busy intersections asking for a handout so they may eat and drink and who may not have another soul in their lives that will embrace them at the end of the day. If we are quick to anger at the way our politics has seemed to devolve into a back alley brawl then we need only to think about those in countries where there are no ballots, no polling places and no opportunity to freely choose leaders to represent them. If we are disgusted by the way the marginalized are treated by being caged, beaten and too often killed then we need only think about how we can use our own privilege to stand up and stand for those who are mistreated and brutalized.
No matter how tough we think we have it, it is a rare person who who would want to trade places with those living on the margins. And our places are by and large good, safe and comfortable.
If we pause to get in touch with the way our lives have been blessed and the many things we have reason to be grateful for it should cause us to ask ourselves how then do we use our attitude of gratitude to do something positive that will keep our glasses full and overflowing? As the poet wrote: “let me count the ways.”
Selfless acts of giving back to others are the best way to demonstrate how gratitude can be actualized. When gratitude is expressed in ways that heal it is as much a gift to the helper as to those helped. And it definitely refills the glass from half to full.
There are so many ways to connect with others and to give to others. Religious institutions like synagogues, churches and mosques have active programs of outreach to the community on behalf of those in need. Find one that fits your beliefs. Faith based organizations such as Arizona Jews for Justice, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Islamic Social Services Association offer opportunities to volunteer through their social justice programs and charitable initiatives. Find one whose work motivates you. And countless secular organizations exist in every community to provide relief to those who are hungry, homeless, imprisoned, looking for a new homeland, those who are abused, neglected, under-educated, and those facing more challenges than can be listed. Find one and step up to join in their work.
So, what does one do? Take one step and then another and before long you will find yourself blazing your own path of giving, sharing and loving motivated by your own sense of gratitude and with appreciation for all of your blessings. Your gifts will be returned to you multi-fold. You will feel satisfaction, gratification and pure gratitude for your ability to lift others up. It will nourish your soul and definitely fill your glass. And even though your life may not be perfect and despite the many things that understandably cast a dark shadow on your view of the world, the act of giving to others will cause the sun to shine a little more brightly and help you redefine what is truly important.
If you think a small act of kindness can’t change the world then you should think about the Starfish Story. Whether you’ve heard it before and would benefit from being reminded of it again or even if you have never heard the story, I encourage you to heed the lesson of this beautiful little parable.
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
We would all do well to be guided by the words of theologian John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
So, how is your glass? Half empty? Half Full? No matter, your glass is designed to be refilled. And gratitude may be the best way to refill it.