One of the best things we can do in our life is create a spirit of thankfulness. It’s important to have hope, to dream, and have things to look forward to, but we need to balance that with feeling thankful for what we currently have and where we’re at in order to be happy. Finding a way to be thankful even in difficult times is important because thankfulness is the root of happiness and healing from the past. One of the best tools for being thankful is to remember how it could be worse. For instance, years ago when my eye was scratched and I had to wear an eye patch for a day (the peg leg I wore along with it was for fun), I could be thankful it wasn’t both eyes that were hurt, it was temporary, I could see with the other eye, and there was hope for the injury to completely heal without any surgery or cost (thank you Canada). I could also be thankful I have an eye to be scratched in the first place. There are so many things that could’ve been worse than my current state.
My sister was really good at finding things to be grateful for when she went through her cancer three years ago, which made a big difference for her going through it for herself and her family. Even though she was hit so hard by the chemo she could only do seven of the eight originally planned treatments, my sister was able to be grateful she didn’t have something like MS or Parkinson’s that are permanent and that she had a job that offered financial help while she was off recovering unlike someone like me who is self-employed and would’ve been screwed if I didn’t work. Even now when she’s still struggling with heart issues caused by the chemo treatments that she’ll likely battle the rest of her life, she’s handling it remarkably well as she remembers how it could be worse rather than how other people have it better. After all, a partially working heart is better than a heart that’s not working at all.
A lot of people say we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, but that’s actually terrible advice. We should be comparing ourselves, but we need to have a balance of looking at people who have it better as a way to inspire us to grow while we remember those who have it worse as a way to remember how lucky we are because it could be worse.
This idea jumped out at me while I was reading the book, Strange History. Like all geniuses, I have a book in the bathroom to read when you know… I’m avoiding a crying baby or toddler. This book offers one page of information on a historical event, and the one was a great reminder of how it could be worse than this seemingly never ending pandemic. I know the movie Outbreak is proof that we could definitely have a worse virus being passed around as the one in that movie was a death sentence for everyone who got it and it was so contagious it spread to everyone in a city within a week, but the event in my book reminded me of how we could definitely have it worse than what others have actually lived through in the world’s history. Besides wars, floods, and earthquakes, there was one event that greatly affected the entire world. In April, 1815, Mount Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, erupted and lasted for ten days ravaging the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. Sure a ten day explosion is bad and it’s terrible the island was so devastated, but the real problem was the ash and dust from that explosion because it was so thick it blocked out the sun… all around the world… for a year. That’s right. One event on an island caused what was called across the entire world, “The year without a summer.” A year without seeing the sun? Brutal! Seasonal depression affects a lot of people during January to March in Ontario and that’s just three months while knowing spring will soon arrive versus a year where you’d have no idea when the sun would be out again or if it’d be out again at all. Plus, unlike our three months of winter where we still get moments of sun, they’d have nothing – Insane! Keep in mind this was also at a time when there wasn’t the instant global news sharing that we have today, so there would have been people throughout the world who’d have no idea what was going on and a lot of crazy guesses. For instance, there would’ve been mass assumptions it was God’s judgement or the apocalypse and the world was coming to an end. Either way, there’d be people wondering if they’d ever see the sun again, which could lead to the possible extinction of life as they knew it.
So what was it like at that time? The temperatures that year were the coldest on record with snow or frost happening in North America and Europe even in the summer. Where fruit and vegetables survived, there was a huge problem with it being moldy and not even good enough to give animals. There ended up being an increase in prices for food and some parts like Quebec ran out of bread and milk. In Europe, “the dust in the atmosphere turned the white snowflakes red. The ensuing famine was the worst the continent would experience in the 19th century. By the time that ‘summer’ was over nearly 200,000 Europeans had perished.” (p216, Strange History) A virus is bad, but I can’t imagine watching animals and people starve and the guilt that would be attached to that.
Of course, our situation with Covid also has its tragedies and we should acknowledge the suffering that is going on, but by remembering what others have been through or those who currently have it worse than us can help us find a spirit of thankfulness and contentment even in difficult times.
This week may you consider what could be worse in order to be thankful for what you have.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)