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Being Thankful for What You Don't Have

While one might certainly feel sympathy and empathy towards those who are suffering, one can also step back from the story to think about how fortunate one is that "This didn't happen to me."
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It's easy to begin feeling you are somehow lacking because you haven't achieve the success or fortune of others, especially when we are constantly regaled with stories about the rich and famous in the news. These stories are everywhere, and TV shows and films glamorize the luxury life. And when people break through, say by winning the lottery, they are celebrated, too. Thus, it can be easy to feel left out or feel one doesn't measure up.

Yet, another way to think about things is to consider all the ways in which you are fortunate to have what you have and be thankful for the negative things you don't have. I got to thinking about this issue after reading the latest stories in the news about various disasters and tragedies that befall people every day, in all stations of life. Then a friend reminded me of what her mother used to tell her in growing up -- and I remembered that my mother used to tell me this, too, when urging us to eat something we didn't want to eat. For example, when we didn't want to eat something, my friend's mother (or my mother) used to tell us, "Just think of all the starving people in China," at a time when China was still thought of as a poor country. Or if I complained because my parents wouldn't buy me a desired toy, my mother would tell me, "Just think how fortunate you are, because some children don't even have homes." My friend's parents shared similar wisdom.

The idea of these childhood comparisons was to make us feel better about ourselves by comparing us to those who were less fortunate in some way. I suddenly felt a similar feeling of gratitude upon reading these stories of people who experienced terrible problems. I found these tales especially uplifting at a time when I was still recovering from the economic meltdown caused by the Great Recession and was struggling to stay afloat due to a recent dearth of clients and book sales. But reading about these problems of other people became a kind of inspiration in reverse.

Certainly, in many cases, some people may feel discouraged on reading such stories. They think "That could happen to me," and get fearful when reading about a plane crash and decide not to fly (though flying is much safer than driving in a car).

But another approach is to turn anything negative you read about into a positive by thinking, "How fortunate I am that didn't happen to me." In fact, that's the kind of approach taken by positive psychologists, who seek to make everyday life more fulfilling. For example, positive psychology, drawing on empirical evidence, focuses on productive approaches to pain and suffering. Among other things, this positive response to negative experiences is designed to reduce the physical, emotional and psychological burden that is linked to stressful life events and daily hassles.

It is an approach to psychology which is centered on helping people become happier.

Generally, this psychological approach is designed to help people feel happier in confronting and overcoming their own problems. But one can also apply this approach to the advice of many parents to think about how one is more fortunate than others. In doing so, I can see why one might feel better in reading these stories about the daily problems, tragedies and disasters that befall others. While one might certainly feel sympathy and empathy towards those who are suffering, one can also step back from the story to think about how fortunate one is that, "This didn't happen to me."

And in today's media, there are a plethora of such stories to trigger this response, such as the stories of the woman who died when she fell off a roller coaster because her seat belt released; the bride and best man who died when the speed boat in which they were riding hit a barge and threw them off; the people who were injured or died when a Korean airline crash landed; the women who were abducted from the street and held captive for more than 10 years. Then, too, there are the stories of people who have experienced unusual diseases or conditions, such as the woman who was infected by flesh eating bacteria after her zip line broke and she was thrust into the river or the boy in China called "fish boy" because he one of 16,000 children born each year with a condition called ichthyosis that causes itchy scales which look like the scales of a fish.

While many of these stories are reported as curiosities featured on Internet news readers and on Web shows like "Broken News Daily" and "Odd News," they can also be a source of self-healing. As much as we may feel sad for the people who have experienced such difficulties or their families, we may feel some inspiration, too, as we think, "I'm glad that didn't happen to me," "I'm glad I'm more fortunate than that," or "Whatever my own problems, at least I didn't experience that."

Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Besides, LIVING IN LIMBO her latest books include: TRANSFORMATION: HOW NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS AND SOCIETY ARE CHANGING YOUR LIFE and THE BATTLE AGAINST INTERNET PIRACY

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