We always notice what we’re missing. If we’re dying to get married, there seem be couples everywhere (particularly happy, romantic ones!). If we’re anxious to have children, all we see are pregnant women. If our teeth are slightly yellowed, everyone else seems to have bright, white smiles. And bald men tell me that they frequently find themselves surrounded by men with full heads of hair. Obviously, it’s not true. It’s just that we’re more focused on what we lack – and therefore more attuned to its presence in others.
If we’re overweight, everyone else is skinny. If we’re unemployed, all our peers seem to have high-powered jobs. If our kids are acting out, our friends’ children seem to be winning scholarships to Harvard. What is this phenomenon and, more importantly, is it good for us?
I think we notice what we’re missing because instead of reflecting on the good in our lives, on all its blessings, our nature is to focus on what we don’t have. That is why our sages teach us that the road to success is to be happy with our portion. Achieving that perspective is a lifetime’s work and goal. But it begins with recognizing the truth and wisdom of this idea.
Otherwise we descend into a bottomless pit of resentment, frustration, jealousy, depression – a stew of negative and destructive emotions. There is conceivably no end to the lacks in our lives – and the riches in the lives of those around us. They have kinder husbands, more polite children, bigger houses, more prestigious jobs, fancier shoes…well, I said there was no end, right? This is the surefire path to misery.
On the other hand, focusing on our good and counting our blessings leads to gratitude and happiness. We are so busy enumerating what we lack that we don’t even notice what we have. We need to stop and take a deep breath and look at all of our good – this job, this spouse, these children, this city, this community, these strengths – and yes, even these weaknesses. They are all tailor-made just for me.
This is not a new idea. I not hearing it or discovering it for the first time. But I don’t fully live it. I still spend too much time on what’s missing. Yes, it’s human nature but it’s my job to rise above it. Yes, it’s the easier path but who said “easy” was a life goal?
Sometimes when I’m in a grumpy mood, my husband says to me, “Tell me something good that happened today.” “I don’t want to,” I pout like a two year-old. I’d rather wallow in self-pity than lift up and choose the more positive route even though in the end I feel frustrated and dissatisfied.
So I’m moving on, trying to leave that negativity behind. I’m concentrating on the good I have, not the good I lack or the good that I believe others have. I’ll be the new “always smiling” me. And I am removing the word “except” from my vocabulary – you know “I have everything I need except…”