We usually think of opposites in terms of a simple, “either-or” relationship — such as light and darkness, large and small, heavy and light. And these opposites exist on a single continuum, with the opposing characteristics being on the ends of the spectrum.
But there are some relationships which are more complex, where there is more than one characteristic that can be opposite of another. For example, in comparing a “good meal” with a bad one, there are different factors that can lead to that judgment. The quality of the basic ingredients, the correct amount of the ingredients, combining the ingredients in the proper order and utilizing the appropriate process, the degree and duration of cooking, the temperature of the food when presented, and the combination of the various dishes prepared — all lead to the combined quality of the meal. So a meal can be unsatisfactory because the food is too salty, the meat was overcooked and tough, the vegetables are room temperature, the baker used baking soda instead of baking powder, or you don’t especially like a spicy green salsa on your cranberry apple salad.
Similarly, it seems that there is more than one “opposite” of being thankful. In fact, if you think of the term “opposite” being rooted in the meaning of “opposing”, the issue becomes more clear.
So, as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, instead of the traditional approach of thinking about those things for which we are thankful (we is generally a good exercise to do), let’s look at those characteristics and attitudes which get in the way of being thankful.
- Apathy. An “I don’t care” attitude reflects a lack of appreciation for one’s present circumstances. Someone who is passive, has little interest or motivation in the current situation, really doesn’t understand how bad things could actually be. (I believe apathy reflects a deeper sense of self-focus where the individual becomes passive when they can’t do what they want to.)
- Entitlement. When individuals come to believe that they deserve x, y, or z, then having that item or being able to do what they believe is their right becomes a baseline expectation for life. And when we believe we have a right to something, we generally are not that thankful when we get it.
- Impatience. When we are impatient (and usually, also irritable) in our current life circumstance, it follows that we are not really very thankful for the situation we find ourselves in. Usually, we are quite focused on a very narrow aspect of the situation (being stuck in traffic and late to a meeting or event) and fail to see the positives of the broader context (having a car to travel in, living in a safe country).
- Envy. Focusing on what others have that we don’t, or characteristics of their lives we wish were true for us lead us away from being thankful what we have and our current life circumstances. (Remember, there are 3 billion people who go to bed hungry every night.)
- Anger. When we become angry, we essentially are saying (to ourselves and others) — “This should have (or shouldn’t have) happened ..”. And when our expectations aren’t met, we become angry about it. It seems to be pretty difficult to be thankful and angry at the same time, I think (try it!).
- Greed. Have you ever been around a child who always wants more? More toys. More fun. More food (to the point of excess). They rarely seem to be thankful for what they just received or experienced, but rather quickly move on to “What’s next?” As adults, we may have just completed a pleasurable experience, and are already looking on to the next fun thing to do. Greed and gratefulness don’t co-exist.
- Worry. This is an interesting juxtaposition to thankfulness. Worry and anxiety have to do with the future — x, y or z may happen; or “if Q happens, then …[some bad thing] will occur.” It’s hard to be grateful and enjoy life when you are around someone who is anxious and worrisome. Almost by definition, they are so focused on a possible future event, they cannot enjoy the present.
I am sure there are other characteristics and attitudes that interfere with, and oppose, being thankful. Some of the ones identified above create a sense of embarrassment for me, because they are too often true in my own daily life. (Sorry about that to those of you who live closely with me.)
If you wouldn’t mind, take a moment and review the list. Go slow and think about periods when you have struggled with these attitudes. Think of specific times and circumstances. And when you are ready, choose to move on. Resolve to battle these ways of thinking when they come up.
For some reason, there are always a few foundational things that I find myself repeatedly thankful for. And I’d like to share some of them with you. Those of you who have lived in more difficult times and places, or who have traveled in poorer countries, can probably identify with these relatively simple items:
- a hot shower
- a glass of clean, refreshing ice water
- air conditioning
- fresh fruit
- a warm house or a warm place to work
- a family member or friend who loves you
- pain relievers and medication
- money to be able to take care of an unexpected expense
- warm sunshine or a cool breeze
- no bugs biting me while I am in bed
- clean, dry clothes
- a variety of food to eat
I’ll stop there (although I’d love to keep going).
I hope you have a tremendous time with family and friends this coming week. Be sure to them how much you appreciate how they have enriched your life!