It’s the time of year when we all start to hear about gratitude. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, our kids come home from school with gratitude projects – like the always-enlightening “make a list of all the things you’re thankful for”. (When my son was 4, the thing that topped his list was “my pillow.” Not his mom, dad, sister, extended family, home, food, even toys – but a pillow! Who knew one down-alternative-filled headrest could inspire so much love??)
So the kids hear about gratitude in school; we read inspiring stories in the paper about amazing people doing amazing things in the face of amazing odds; Thanksgiving passes; and we all go back to normal. At best. With the end of Thanksgiving coinciding with the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, we sometimes enter December feeling even less grateful than usual. We’re filled with the “gimmies”, focusing on all that we want for the holidays, all that we don’t have, all that we fear we won’t be able to get.
It’s so easy to fall into this trap in our society. As a nation, we are incredibly fortunate. Virtually all of us have access to running water, electricity, grocery stores, schools. We have a stable, functioning government, the ability to vote our government in and out of office, and the right to complain about all of their actions. With all the basics taken care of (and taken for granted), we’re free to focus on all that we lack, regardless of how important those lacks are in the grander scheme of things.
When I find myself falling into this “all that I lack” mindset, I think back to something I learned from Warren Buffett. Yes, that Warren Buffett. Turns out that one of the richest men in the world has a clever litmus test to keep things in perspective. He came to speak at our school, and asked us to imagine that each of our lives was represented by a ping pong ball that had been spit out by the cosmic lottery machine. Were we willing to put our ball back into the machine and take whatever was spit out in its place?
Put that way, the choice was clear – and the answer was clearer. Not one person in that crowd of several hundred was willing to take that risk.
As for me? I took that lesson to heart. My husband and I actually mounted two ping pong balls in a shadow box and put it up in our house. Every time I feel like I’m lacking – in material possessions, in time, in sleep (perpetually in sleep!) – I take myself over to those ping pong balls and remind myself of how truly lucky I am.