Ambition Does Not Undermine Gratitude
When something goes wrong and someone tells me that “it could be worse,” I feel as if they are insulting my emotional intelligence. “It could be worse,” is a phrase used by psychologists when treating depression during cognitive therapy. Cognitive Therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression. I know this from research and personal experience with acquaintances that live with depression. For someone who lives with depression, the response to a roadblock is always, “It could be worse.” And who can blame them? This is what they were taught. It is the easiest form of reminding someone that they should be grateful. Gratitude is the first step towards happiness. However, there is a reason why it is the first step and not the only step.
Once you have the knowledge to enable yourself to feel gratitude, the next step towards happiness is in the striving. Part of the human condition is constant striving. When we have no goals, we have no life. Buddhist monks who work towards contentment are constantly striving towards a deeper level of that perception. The reason they don’t strive for happiness is because it takes them away from contentment. We also should not confuse striving for our dreams with striving for happiness. When we strive for our dreams, we automatically become happy. However, striving for happiness often causes dissatisfaction.
In the striving is a risk. The risk of failing always lies ahead. A documentary on Japanese suicide determined that the main causes of suicide were pressure and the inability to pursue dreams. Wouldn't you rather take the chance in knowing that it could be better and see it for yourself?
The knowledge that things could always be worse only serves those who have difficulty with gratitude. If you are grateful for all that you have, you do not need to be told that things could always be worse. When you are completing a project that fails, it is because you already have the basic necessities in life. In order for me to even begin a non life-threatening objective, my basic needs have to be met. I am grateful for all that I have, however I live my life looking up, never looking down. The only reason you should be looking at your poor neighbor's bowl is to see if they have enough food in it so that you may give from your own. One must never look at someone who is worse of for the purpose of comparison or self-gratification. This is not gratefulness. It is false empathy.
Being grateful should not require you to see those struggling to survive without physically assisting them. Be grateful for what you have while striving for all that you could have. In yoga there are many poses where an inhale indicates a bend at the knees, while an exhale asks us to reach our hearts toward the ceiling. The grounding and reaching occur at the same time.
In life, perception is everything. Perceiving the world for what it is will get you far. The trick is to remain grateful while constantly reaching for all that you can grasp. The secret to happiness is to never be satisfied.