Something that I have always valued, and encouraged other people to do, is live life with gratitude. It’s a simple concept – value and appreciate what you have instead of dwelling on what you don’t have, often distressing yourself in the process. Despite all the talking around gratitude, the issue was brought home to me rather vividly recently, in a discussion that I had with a perfect stranger.
I was being driven to the airport by a chauffeur driver. We started chatting, as one does, caught up in the early morning traffic. I asked him about his work – how many trips he had that day, how long the working hours were, etc. He chatted freely, and then told me that he needed to do a certain number of trips in a day to get his basic salary, and was then paid extra for each additional trip he did in the day. He volunteered that his salary was around R4,500 per month, taking the extra trips into account.
I was rather taken aback, and my immediate reaction was to ask him whether there were other companies that paid a better wage for what he did. How could anyone work full time, in such a responsible job, for that little money?
He then continued to tell me that he had been unemployed for five months and had recently managed to get this job. He had battled financially, unable to support his wife who became the breadwinner. How, at one point there was no groceries in the house, and his daughter had won some gift vouchers from a grocery store, and had taken these and stocked up the house with food. As he spoke, I could see the picture in my mind’s eye. He had tried for many months to find work, feeling very desperate at times, he explained further.
Now, he said, he could put food on the table again. He had regained his feeling of self worth, and was starting to dream again. He said he wants to finish his matric, and the fact that he is 45 would not put him off. I couldn’t argue with that, and deep down, I must admit that I felt humbled and slightly ashamed. My reaction to his situation was so typical, yet he shone brightly with a glow of gratitude. His salary, no matter how little compared to my world, meant the world to him and was something that he treasured. It was also about so much more than just money.
Gratitude is such an intangible thing. And talk is cheap when it comes to being grateful. Walking the walk is a whole other story. Perhaps it’s only when we have been through the proverbial gates of hell that we are grateful for where we are now. Those gut wrenching relationship endings or divorces, devastating losses of financial security, emotionally draining losses of self worth, all leave us coming out the other side not ever wanting to go through that again, and really appreciating what we have.
In a society where there is so much discontent and attitudes of entitlement, it was so refreshing to meet someone who is genuinely grateful for what they have. He doesn’t compare himself to the neighbour who has more. He compares himself to the broken man of a month ago, trying desperately to find work. As much as we complain about life and things that we don’t have, this man brought home to me how lucky I am to have what I have. And that is something that I must never forget.