Stop First World Whining: Get Grateful

snoopy

…it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
madhouse…
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …”

Some days don’t go our way: we wake up late, hate all our clothes, stab ourselves in the eye with a hurried mascara wand and drop our keys while running for the bus. Then to the local trendy coffee shop, where the lineup gets us seething, and by the time we learn they have to make a new pot of our fave blend, and it’ll take ten minutes, something in us snaps.

Good ol’Chuck Bukowski wrote:

“with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
thing
enters a
madhouse.”

Maybe the shoelace analogy feels dated, but let’s admit that for every one hundred computer glitches, every hundred “vital” texts that didn’t make it through in time, metros stuck in tunnels and ill fitted take out cup lids that leads to disasters, someone will lose the bulk of their composure. The statistics remain the same.

What makes it seem like these minor catastrophes are more prevalent, and even extra catastrophic, is the ability to immediately kvetch about your tiny inconvenience into the vast and anonymous interweb without actually thinking about how many people you’ve just whined to.

Look, social networks are great. They’re invaluable tools, even for reaching out in crisis, because heck, these days some rock bottoms catch wi-fi, but when everything you care to share has a dark side, it doesn’t look like the universe is doing you wrong, so much as you’re not looking at it right. And perception is everything.

Last week a friend’s neighbour died. The landlady stopped her on the way out to give her the news. It wasn’t that she was close with the woman, but upon learning that a human had lain dead for three days, unclaimed and unaccounted for, mere feet through walls away, my awesome buddy took to Facebook and called for good news.

She asked us all to stop the bitching and comment instead the things we are happy about, grateful for, looking forward to, proud of — and it brought out the best in people. And as is the tendency, like breeds like: I swiped the idea in a heartbeat and received a flurry of happy news and shiny perspectives that I fear I may not of heard without asking for it. It was positive energy straight to my heart and it made me think of even more of things I’m grateful for, including these people, so full of bright sides.

But the others remain. So, needless complainers, please listen up:

Have you ever listened to spoiled and entitled teenagers complain about a life that’s never been harder than an all-you-can-eat sundae bar? That’s exactly how you sound when you make a habit of crying over first world problems instead of rejoicing that you’re in the frickin’ first world a little more often. Did you really just pout that you couldn’t get the new iPhone in your first choice of colour so you had to “settle”? With an attitude like that, life’s gonna be hard, princess. Better start dancing in the rain.

For the record, the irony of first world whiners being the fly in my soup, bound to push me over the brink, is not lost on me. Still, from where I sit, the people going through real hardships are seldom the complainers in the room.

Those who really “can’t afford it” are not the ones trying to swing discounts at yoga studios. The folks I know with the storied pasts that would make great tear-jerking movies of the week are the ones who invest time into growing joy and fostering meaningful lives, smiling and grateful, most of the time.

All I’m saying is that if you’re going to complain about the sunburn you got while beaching on your paid vacation time, you’d better do so with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Starting to take take this personally and think I’m in some way calling you out as a first world whiner? Well, you should probably sit with that for a moment or two. Complaining about petty things is pretty egotistical, so it’s no grand wonder that you see yourself here.

Still, we all take things for granted and could use more gratitude in our lives. Studies show that remembering what you’re thankful for makes your whole life shinier. From sustaining healthier relationships (with partners more willing to go the extra mile, might I add), to more restful sleep, higher life satisfaction, more positive overall mood and increased emotional resilience for dealing with things that may arise that may even be bigger than *gasp* a parking ticket.

And the most common shared trait of people who identify as happy: the desire to be happy. Not “if” that happens or “when” they get something, or once they achieve that next thing, but the ability to find happiness, right now, right here, as you read this, because you know what? Your life’s pretty awesome.

All in all, my bet is that you are healthier than unhealthy, more full than empty, happier than unhappy and richer than poorer in so many ways.

Let’s all stop and smell those flowers for awhile.

And, of course, as Bukowski warns at the end of The Shoelace: be careful when you bend over.

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