Appreciating What We Have

Recently I left my home in New Jersey to take a bus into Manhattan. I was going to speak at a leadership seminar and could not afford to be late. The weather was lousy (heavy rain) and the bus arrived after a 15 minute wait. When it finally pulled up, the display read “Standing Room Only.”

Naturally, I was disappointed to learn that I would need to stand the entire ride (about 40 minutes). Not only is standing for so long uncomfortable, but I knew that I would be standing the better part of 3.5 hours during the seminar and didn’t want to come in already tired. But I knew that I had to be on time and so I go on board.

Another passenger got on at the next stop. She too had waited a while and decided to board. As other passengers got on behind her the aisle space became increasingly more crowded and she accidently encroached upon the space of the seated passenger to her side. The passenger made a quip about being pushed, and my aisle counterpart profusely apologized. Then she turned to me and said, “Can’t she just appreciate the fact that she has a seat and doesn’t have to stand al squeezed in like this?” Then she added, “While I don’t like standing, at least I can be thankful that I have a job to go to.”

I was impressed by her attitude and insight. Sure, the seated passenger was upset about being more crowded than normal. She may have even gotten a bit wet from the rain water that was on our coats or umbrellas. But at least she had a warm, dry seat and could rest while we made our way into the city. The woman standing next to me had none of those comforts, and still found a way to take the high road and avoid confrontation.

It can be easy for all of us, especially the chronic complainers amongst us, to see the glass as half empty. Particularly in a society that makes many promises and encourages us to think that we deserve every last convenience and pleasure, it can be easy to fall into the trap of complaint when things don’t go our way. But if we just take the time to look at things from another’s perspective, we can often see that we have it good even when it doesn’t always appear that way.

So how can we start to see things from another’s perspective? And how can we adjust our thinking to be more thankful for what we have and see our life’s glasses as being half full?

  1. Adjust your paradigm – In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”, author Stephen Covey shared a story involving a young father and his children on a train. Covey was seated on the train, preparing for a long weekend in front of him. He expected a nice, quiet ride while he read through his favorite periodical. The children, however, had other ideas. They were loud and boisterous and the father seemed quite oblivious. Increasingly annoyed, Covey eventually made his way to the father and asked him to control his children. You can imagine his shock and dismay when he was told that the man and his kids had just come from the hospital, where their wife/mother has passed away. Covey uses the story to speak about paradigms, or the way that we see things. If we have rigid, me-first perspectives on what should happen, such thinking will impact how we act and communicate.  If, however, we condition ourselves to think more in terms of what others want and need, as well as to set more realistic expectations for situations (such as taking public transportation), then we can approach them with more patience and balance.
  2. Use a “If I was him/her” technique – Before rushing to judgment (something that we do very quickly – as the old Head and Shoulders commercial went, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”), try to consider how you would behave in that situation. If you were standing on a crowded bus in rush hour after a long wait in the rain, how would you be feeling? What considerations or sensitivities would you appreciate from those around you? Apply that thinking to situations so that you can extend more understanding and sensitivity to others.
  3. List your gifts – Think about the many good things that you have and are occurring in your life. Make a list of all of the things that you should appreciate, such as life itself, your health, your family, your skills, your wealth, etc. Try to get less caught up in what you don’t have and stay focused on the good. Remember, there will always be people with more than you. They live in bigger homes, drive nicer cars, are in better health, etc. Focus less about what you don’t have and think about the many people who would love to change places with you because of all the blessings that you do enjoy.

It can be difficult for us to appreciate others’ perspectives, especially when their behaviors make us uncomfortable. It can also be challenging to express appreciation when it seems that we should have more than we presently do or that life should be easier than it is. But if we take the time to escape the limitations of our tunnel vision and begin to view our lives with a broader lens, then we will quickly find that we have quite a bit going for us. And for that we need to be appreciative.