What are you grateful for? If you’re like me, you begin the extremely long list with things like “my family” and “my cat”, and later on (as ideas are failing you), you end by writing down anything random that comes to mind, such as “my purple polka-dotted left sock” and “my purple polka-dotted right sock”. Though you probably meant those last ones as a joke, it was evident that you were running out of ideas. The gratitude list can only be so long—or so you think. There’s so many more things to be grateful for, and most of them are things you don’t have.
When there is a war, everyone knows about it. But who takes time to think about a “war that isn’t”? In times of peace, we forget how blessed we are to not have a war. There are hundreds of things that don’t happen to you that you could add to that gratitude list. We don’t notice absences, because (obviously) they’re not there. We are blind to things that do not exist.
As paradoxical as this sounds, it is 100% worth trying. Focusing only on the things we have shows us a one-sided picture of the world. To gain that well-rounded image, we must search for both sides—the things we have and the things we are blessed not to have. I am grateful to not have a life-threatening illness that keeps me hospitalized. I am grateful for that non-existent war. Realizing how blessed we are to both have things and not have things tells us how grateful we really should be. There is so much more to gratitude than we realize—first glance is not always the full summary.
It is good to look and show gratitude for the absence of hard things in our lives, but I also think there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it. Some people will say, “I’m so lucky compared to that single mom who went through a really difficult divorce.” This isn’t really being grateful for the absence of a divorce; ultimately this is comparing our life to others. There is a saying that goes: “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Even if we come out on the top of that comparison, we don’t receive the full joy we could have gained if we had been grateful for an absence in the correct way. Recognizing absences in the right way will bring forth statements like these: “I’m so grateful to live in a country where I don’t have to fear for my life daily” or “I am glad my family members do not struggle with the influences of drugs, pornography, or other addictions”. These statements do not have comparisons. They are simple pronouncements of gratitude for things I am glad I live without. It is only a simple change from the first type of statement, but it brings the right mentality and the full measure of joy.
Absence isn’t present in our minds, but it should be. Being grateful for things that aren’t there brings a whole new level to gratitude. We will be much happier in general if we take time to realize non-existent blessings as well as material ones. Our capacity to feel joy will be increased, and we will go about life with the knowledge that we are truly blessed, and that we have so much to be grateful for.