Lessons of Gratitude
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We stopped for a breather about halfway through the Higher Yosemite Falls hike in North California. I looked around and gratitude overwhelmed me.
There were huge waterfalls, snowy peaks, flowing rivers and breathtaking views. The occasional breeze slightly shook the trees around us. Little droplets of snow fell down from the treetops. The sun shined through the clouds and illuminated the waterfall. Rainbows danced off of the rocks where the falling water would hit them and shoot through the air. The mountaintops were white with snow. And a big river split that scene in half.
I was thankful to my health first of all, as well as to my good fortunes. Mostly, however, I felt grateful that I simply had the ability to be there. On the side of a rocky mountain, with a friend. Hiking up for no other reason than to enjoy the day and experience the view.
Just think of all the things that had to happen for me to even get there.
First, fast forward through man’s beginnings when his only job was to survive. Then, somebody had to discover the gem that is Yosemite. Then, hundreds of people had to work together to create hiking paths, build bridges, make roads, and construct hotels. It literally took thousands of years of concentrated effort for me to be able to enjoy that view.
Don’t even get me started on the people that had to come together to create the shoes I was using, the clothes I was wearing, or the car that drove me there.
When you really consider it, it is absolutely mind-boggling. Absolutely astounding!
Just think about the millions of hours of work. And boy, was it worth it.
All this hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve never been as grateful as I was in that moment. And.. I realized something.
This type of thinking can be applied to absolutely everything in one’s life.
Right now, I am using a computer to write this. A computer!?! Come on?! If I showed this to somebody two hundred years ago, they would burn me to the stake and condemn me a sorcerer. And it is just like witchcraft. I press a key and a letter appears on the screen. I press a button and it is visible for the whole world to see. Just because one is so used to the process, doesn’t mean that he or she shouldn’t feel a tad of awe and appreciation for the amount of people that had to come together to give him or her that powerful opportunity.
But how often does one take the time to be appreciative and to let himself be amazed?
Not enough. It reminds me of a talk between the infamous Louis Ck and Conan, where they talk about this very problem.
It is really a shame, because absolutely everything that I do every day has the ability to amaze me, if only I let myself be amazed.
But this is too often forgotten. If one adopts this manner of thinking, if he lets gratitude fill his heart, in the way it filled mine at that hike, he can use it, as I have, to find purpose.
The best way I know of showing my appreciation is by giving back. I’ve been given great opportunities and I feel that it is my duty to take advantage of them. It is beyond me that one can feel that sense of appreciation for the things in his life and be apathetic.
It is astounding that I can leverage the technologies and ideas of the people before me to create something even bigger and better. This ability to stand on the shoulders of giants has made us what we are today and not to take advantage of that would be irresponsible.
In fact, the world is more connected now than ever before. One’s ideas can reach more people than ever and do it quicker. This gives one a bigger responsibility to make use of what he is given, but it also gives one an even greater ability to impact and shape the world.
Always ask yourself how many people had to work so that you have the opportunity to do what you are doing right now. Then allow yourself to be amazed, moved and inspired by that. Channel that gratitude. Make things that will give others even a large impact and a larger responsibility - give them even more things than you have, to be thankful for. Perpetuate the cycle of gratitude and see how the world becomes a better place not only for you, but for future generations.
Unfortunately, a lot of the people I know are holding a nihilistic view. They believe that everything is pointless. Why bother doing anything at all if one day we will all die, nothing will matter, and all my hard work will have been for nothing?
I remind you that the work of the people that got me on that hiking trail was not for nothing. I felt their hard work in my heart and it made my world just a little bit better. They increased my happiness and now I wish to carry that forward.
Each of our individual actions can feel like the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the grand scheme of things, meaningless and soon forgotten. But, one flap can lead to another, and another, and another, and a million butterflies are soon flapping in unison, creating a hurricane.
We each have the ability. Our work can affect greatly - give others happiness, inspire them to pass it forward, and give us meaning. Each of us has the ability to make a significant difference.
With every day the flap of one’s wings grows stronger.
At the end we will all ask ourselves whether our life had a positive, negative or neutral affect on the world. The meaning of life is to be able to look back and say this: "My life made the world a better place than it would’ve been without me there. Future generations might not remember my name, but my efforts will live forever, in their gratitude of what they have, because of me."
Pictures of our hike are below. Unfortunately, they don't do reality justice.