When I think about the importance of gratitude a popular refrain from Joni Mitchell’s hit, Big Yellow Taxi comes to mind.

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

The song has been covered by numerous bands throughout the years and its message is as relevant now as ever. Some consider it a protest song against corporate greed and a wakeup call to protect the environment. I embrace that message, but I also see the song as a call to action to appreciate what we have in our lives.

With the restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 many of us can’t help but resent “our new normal” that includes the loss of jobs, the cancellation of life events, public gatherings and social activities, as well as the mandatory wearing of face masks. Life as we once knew it has changed.

However, focusing on what we have lost does not improve our situation.

There is a Buddhist story with an excerpt about a man “who spends night and day counting his neighbor’s wealth but gains not even half a coin.” The overall message is about the futility of looking outside of one’s self to find happiness, but I think that is a tough concept for most of us. An easier message that I think more of us can identify with is that focusing on what we don’t have leaves us feeling angry, envious and unfulfilled.

The anecdote is to have an attitude of gratitude and turn our attention to the many blessings we have in our lives.
I try to start my mornings and evening by reciting a list of what I am thankful for. This can be about the people in my life (including those who have passed away) to basic needs such as a roof over my head or enough food to eat. Even being able to wake up and see a new day is a huge benefit.

Sometimes my appreciation extends to more mundane conveniences.

I recently returned from a camping trip with my spouse, CB. It was nice to see more than the landscape outside of my immediate neighborhood. Since the pandemic my ventures have been limited to my immediate neighborhood. I haven’t even been to a grocery store since March of 2020. I was looking forward to a change in my surroundings – even if it meant boondocking in a small, Little Guy trailer.

In spite of a t-shirt that proclaims the opposite, I’m not a happy camper. I love the outdoors, but camping is a messy business. Even the easiest tasks are work. I haul water, cook outside, relieve myself in a bucket and have limited access to a shower. When I’m in a bad mood I consider it torture with a stunning view.

There are, however, a few silver linings.

The nighttime sky with its incredible “starscape” is breathtaking. Daytime strolls present a variety of magnificent trees, plants, birds and other wildlife that help me feel more connected to nature. When I return home I have a new appreciation for even the most ordinary things. I rejoice in my first hot shower. I give my washing machine a loving pat on its enamel lid as I throw my smelly clothing into its basin. And the sound of a flushing toilet is like music to my ears.

I can take a sigh of relief. I am home again.
Truth be told, we ALL have a lot to be thankful for. I have found (through trial and error and a lot of research) that transforming an attitude from grouchy to appreciative is a matter of focus. The trick is to make a concerted, ongoing effort away from the things that we find upsetting to those that bring us joy.

If you don’t think you have anything to be grateful for, you might need to expand your world view a bit. For instance, those who are perusing this blog can be thankful to have a phone or computer to access this message. Even having the ability to read is a gift that is not enjoyed by some.

This appreciative effort extends to humankind. Even people we never meet have helped us in countless ways. They grow the food we eat and provide essential goods and services we depend on every day. It is essential we look beyond our own needs and appreciate our connections with others. To ignore this humanistic concept gives rise to a society suffocating in isolation, mistrust, hostility and apathy.

We are so much better than that.

The good news is it is not too late. The proverbial “big yellow taxi” in Joni Mitchell’s song that is packed with our negativity can take a positive detour toward a happier, more helpful direction. We can start by appreciating things now and not wait until it’s gone.

For more direction on how to lead a happier life, please check out my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. It's available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Author's Bio: 

Sally Marks is a public relations expert and the co-author of the self-help book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.