I often feel an intense pressure to be content with what I have rather than wanting more. Either that, or a pressure to simply count my blessings (because I could be bed-ridden, because I could be blind, or deaf or unable to walk, etc. etc. etc.)
I even feel bad (and ungrateful) for writing about this. Because I’m sure it is a veiled complaint, and I should just be counting my blessings. Not whining about how trying to feel content or putting myself in the shoes of suffering people often feels like dying. I overheard a little boy say to his mother recently: ‘No-one likes whingers and I’m a whinger aren’t I?’ (he was so upset about this that he was crying about it).
Anne Frank once wrote in her diary about how her parents urged her to be grateful and to think of those in worse positions than herself. At the time she was in hiding from the Nazis in an overcrowded annex. With childlike innocence she asked something like: ‘What’s the point of thinking about those worse off than you when you yourself are suffering?’. I can’t remember her exact words, but that was the general jist.
I think the whole, ‘being content/thinking of those worse off than you’ thing can get out of hand. I know there are plenty of people who can’t be bothered to think of others and who are never content or grateful. But there are also plenty of people who will do it almost all the time. And then there are those strange people who simply tell others to be content and think of those worse off (all the time).
So really, there needs to be a word for the phenomenon of excessively thinking of others and overly trying to be content in the English language. The best I can come up with is: ‘Gratitudemania’ (and for people who never count their blessings it would be ‘Gratitudephobia’).
They are, I suppose, three separate things – being content with what you have, counting your blessings and thinking of others. These three remain. And the greatest (and worst) of these is ‘being content’.
There isn’t really much choice for us anyway, when the newspapers and TV are full of stories of people in unenviable positions. Maybe they are the victims of the latest crisis or disaster (and there is always a crisis). Maybe they are severely ill and are not getting proper treatment. Maybe they are just plain unlucky.
Obviously I do count my blessings and try to be content and think of others. I’m just not sure of the purpose of it if you have to do it all the time (unless it really does spark you into action of some kind). I’ve been known to take myself off to a darkened room, lie down and simply count my blessings. Sometimes, I admit, it does make me feel a little better. But the ‘trying to feel content’ usually just makes me feel like I’m dying. It always feels better to be wanting something than not to want anything. The self-help writers put it this way: ”You have a right to your desires and needs” (within reason).
Maybe there is always going to be that tension between wanting more and being content with what you have. And a tension between thinking of others and thinking of yourself. Maybe you just have to accept these tensions in life.
But I’m still suspicious that some people would tell a minority, oppressed girl in the third world, who had no arms and no legs, who has just lost her entire family in a war – that she should think of those worse off than herself and count her blessings.