Glow-Stick Gratitude

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My five-year-old, Rowan, and I had enjoyed a full day together: a morning at the zoo, followed by a picnic in the park and a stop at Target, where I'd picked up two tubes of glow sticks in the dollar section – one for Rowan and one for his older brother, Noah. At bedtime that night Rowan suddenly gripped my wrist and pleaded for more glow sticks to bend into necklaces and bracelets. As I explained patiently that we would save the rest for the next evening, Rowan grabbed the tube out of my hand, tore off the lid and dumped the contents across his bed, scattering them like luminescent pick-up sticks. Then he picked up a handful of glow sticks, held them in his fist above his head for dramatic effect and proclaimed emphatically, "I bet you let Noah have all his! My whole life is so hard!" Then he crumpled into howling tears.

Commence bedtime chat. Rowan and I talked about gratefulness, about cultivating an attitude of appreciation and contentment rather than dissatisfaction and greed. We talked about our nature, as people, to crave more, bigger and better. Feet planted firmly on my soapbox, I was about halfway through my lecture when I realized that my own attitude often isn't much better than Rowan's. I, too, am often an ingrate and worse, my ungratefulness often spirals to self-pity. Just recently I began to feel uncertain and insecure again about my pursuit of a writing career. And what do I do when insecurity rolls in like a San Francisco fog? I bemoan, begrudge, compare and covet.

"Well, she has it easier than I do," I thought to myself as I skimmed one writer's blog. "Of course she has plenty of time to write every day. Of course she's got an agent and a second book coming out. She probably doesn't even have kids! She's probably got so much time on her hands she doesn't know what else to do with herself." “My life is so much harder than hers.” I clicked over to another blog I read regularly, a writer whose first book came out last year. "Sure, rough life," I thought bitterly when I read in his author bio that he’s an entrepreneur. "What does an entrepreneur actually do anyway? He probably sits home all day in his quiet office, responds to a few emails and writes during all his free time. Why can’t I get an opportunity like that?" “My life is so much harder than his.” It was tantalizingly easy to slip on the woe-is-me shoe. So easy to slide into an attitude of selfish ingratitude and petty jealousy. So easy to assume that my life circumstances are more challenging than someone else's...everyone else's.

Not long after my self-pity fest, I discovered that the author I assumed had no children, and thus plenty of time to perfect her craft, actually has five -- more than twice the number of offspring I’m raising. And that entrepreneur tucked in his home office, fingers clacking keyboard, mug of coffee steaming on the desk beside him? Turns out it took him 14 years to get his first book published. Not exactly the speedy road to publishing I had envisioned for him. I was properly humbled by what I had discovered about these two writers I simultaneously admire and envy. Life is hard for everyone, I realized, and rarely does anyone get off easy. Fingers don't snap and touch gold. And what may appear on the surface as easy-breezy, piece-of-cake is often simply a mirage.

I’d like to say that Rowan grasped all that -- that he listened attentively to my lecture and then vowed to live a more grateful existence. But he didn’t. Instead, when I concluded the conversation by asking, “Does that make sense, honey? Do you understand?” he looked me in the eye, nodded yes, and then asked, “So, can I have another glow stick?” When I sighed and answered no, the howling resumed. It's not easy living gratefully. Rowan and I walk this path together, a glow stick on hand to light the way.

Have you ever given in to envy and self-pity, only to be properly humbled in the end? How do you cultivate an attitude of gratefulness? Note: some details have been changed to protect identities. Glow Sticks” photo by Casey Glasgow. Used with permission. Post by Michelle DeRusha.