On Thankfulness

Blog It Home 2013 winners at Peace Corps headquarters with acting PC Director and Third Goal staff. Photo courtesy of OTG.
Blog It Home 2013 winners at Peace Corps headquarters with acting PC Director and Third Goal staff. Photo courtesy of OTG.

The past month has really taught me a lesson about the things I’ve taken for granted. It’s one of those lessons that you thought you already knew, but a certain experience makes it really come to life and sink into your heart.

For one, I realized how much more thankful I am when I have less. Returning to the “first world,” I became blissfully happy at simple things I used to take for granted. Some of them were material things- like a hot shower, fast internet, comfortable pillows. Others were more nostalgic- eating raspberries, walking in a park. Most were linked to a particular luxury I had never truly considered before: freedom. The freedom to go wherever I want whenever I want to, to not wait on the side of the road for a minibus, to not be holed up every night after dark; the freedom to choose my meal from a wide variety of options; the freedom to wear more comfortable clothing; freedom to not always be on alert in public places; to walk unnoticed in a crowd. Having all these freedoms returned to me, even for a short time, was absolutely wonderful.

When I think of myself before I lived in Jamaica, I did know I was privileged, but it’s like I was walking around oblivious to just how many things I was taking for granted. I was so accustomed to having what I needed and wanted, the baseline for what was worth my gratitude started in a different place.

My awareness of my own privilege goes so much deeper now. It has made me more thankful, more often, and for smaller things. And everyone knows that an attitude of gratitude makes us happier people. I’m not claiming to be always happy, nor can I be sure that my new-found perspective will wear off eventually. But things have shifted for me. I never could have found that deeper gratitude if I hadn’t lived with less.

Here in Jamaica, you’ll often hear an older person respond to the question, “How are you?” with this common phrase: “I’m giving thanks.” Sometimes it’s said with hesitation, and you know things aren’t really going so great for them. The fact is, they’re not denying or hiding their challenges, they’re choosing to be thankful despite them. This is one of the greatest lessons that I hope to take home with me from the Jamaican people.

Things I’m thankful for at the moment:

  • my family
  • Peace Corps Third Goal Office flying us to DC
  • rainy season’s cooling afternoon thunderstorms
  • no bed bugs
  • catching four mice
  • a fridge that can store most of our food so mice can’t eat it
  • two ripe avocado trees in the backyard
  • power staying on at night so the fans work
  • my personal chef (husband)

-M

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7 thoughts on “On Thankfulness

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  1. Michelle, you just reminded me of part of a David Foster Wallace speech

    “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the h*** is water?’

    …the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

    ‘This is water.’

    ‘This is water.’

    Lovely ❤

  2. Lovely words, Michelle. Thank you.
    Just this morning, when I exchanged greetings with a woman at a local fruit stand and I asked her how she was, her response reminded me of our vegetable vendor in Jamaica: “I’m blessed–God give me another day.”

    Hot water out of the tap–we both still marvel at this luxury 2 years later!
    Thinking of you both.

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