When we see what others have, is our basic reaction to notice what we’re missing or express gratitude for what we have?
I’ve thought a lot about about this question over the years but came back to it recently when I found myself feeling a little jealous over all the vacation posts popping up on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
At some point the serene beaches, beautiful lakes, and mountaintop views started getting to me. I felt like I was missing out. Maybe you’ve felt this way too.
But here’s what’s strange about my reaction: I’m going on vacation in just a few weeks. I’m not missing out on anything. So why do I feel as if I am?
Our Culture of Scarcity
Too often we focus on what we lack instead of what we have. According to researcher Brené Brown, we live in a culture of perceived scarcity, what she calls in Daring Greatly “our culture of ‘never enough.’”
Brown says we start off the morning thinking we didn’t get enough sleep, go through the day thinking we don’t have enough time, and fall asleep thinking we we failed to accomplish enough tasks. Whatever we have, do, or get, it’s never enough.
Throughout the day, as we interact with others, we are painfully aware of what we’re missing: looks, smarts, talent, luck, money, peace, creativity—you name it.
But here’s the problem. Not only are all of these comparisons discouraging and even debilitating, they distort and hide the tremendous gifts we have been given.
Regardless of our culture of perceived scarcity—or our individual circumstances—we all can point to assets, blessings, and gifts in our lives.
That’s why I say perceived scarcity. It’s not real. Yes, there are a million things we don’t have. But there are a million that we do. If we can see through the right lens, we have all been given more than we can possibly ask or imagine.
That lens is called gratitude, and it’s a lens that amplifies everything good in our lives instead of causing it to shrink to insignificance.
While it’s the easiest thing to fall into a scarcity mentality, gratitude helps us cultivate a mindset of abundance.
Three Disciplines of Gratitude
To battle the deceptive perception of scarcity I’ve benefited from adopting these three disciplines of gratitude:
- I start and end the day with prayer. Instead of bookending the day with what I failed to get—sleep or accomplishments or whatever—I try focusing on the blessings I do have and express them in prayer.
- I practice thankfulness. Before I get caught in endless comparisons, I express gratitude for the gifts I do have. I find prayer before meals gives me several natural points in the day to do this.
- I journal my gratitude. Journaling is useful for many things, but expressing and capturing our gratitude is certainly one. Not only do I have the in-the-moment benefit of focusing on the good, I’ve recorded it for later reflection, for those times when things don’t feel like they’re going as well as I had hoped.
The truth is that we will never have more of what we truly desire until we become fully thankful for what we have.
Let’s be crystal clear about this: Ingratitude creates instant victims in our culture of scarcity.
But giving thanks for outrageous abundance inoculates us from the sense of fear, failure, and discontent we sometimes experience and instead creates a path toward success, joy, and fulfillment.