Simple but powerful words by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is from a collection of poems entitled A Child’s Garden of Verse, the above 2 lines comprising the entire poem called Happy Thought.
Sometimes it’s hard to remain optimistic when things are going wrong. Optimism and a feeling of gratitude are essentially outlooks for when things are good. Tell a person whose house is subject to a mortgagee sale or someone who has just lost a loved one that, like Monty Python, they should be looking on the bright side of life and you will not receive a sympathetic response. It’s like giving advice that money is unimportant to someone who doesn’t have a home and is hungry, it’s only unimportant when you have enough of it already.
Recall the lyrics to “Money” in Cabaret:
If you haven't any coal in the stove
And you freeze in the winter
And you curse on the wind
At your fate
When you haven't any shoes
On your feet
And your coat's thin as paper
And you look thirty pounds
When you go to get a word of advice
From the fat little pastor
He will tell you to love evermore.
But when hunger comes a rap,
Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat at the window...
See how love flies out the door...
It is arrogant and condescending to tell someone to be satisfied with what they have. Such a comment only justifies inertia whereas dreams, goals and achievements are to be praised.
Nonetheless all of us, myself included, sometimes need a reminder of what we do have to be grateful for. We become oblivious to what we already have, we take for granted what is under our noses. There is a lot of truth in the saying that we don’t value things until we lose them.
That is why this coming week will be Gratitude Week on Bytes.
One item that I have mentioned previously in Bytes is worth repeating. It concerns Billy Connolly and I sometimes tell it to clients.
Billy had a very unhappy homelife. Nonetheless he managed to overcome it and, between the ages of 16 and 24, he worked as a welder in the shipyards of Glasgow, one of the hardest places on earth. He traces his enduring optimism back to those days. Each day Billy walked to work, over a hill with a graveyard and down the hill into the shipyards. At the yard was a works canteen manned by Tam, a taciturn man of few words and a heavy smoker of the black tobacco that some favoured at the time. One day Billy was sent to get some items for the other workers and listened to Tam coughing. According to Billy:
He started to cough. It was like a storm building up - a thundering storm from miles away. He ended up with these noises that sounded like a platoon of cavalry galloping through a swamp in wellingtons full of vomit. Then it came to an end; all calmed down. I says, 'Jesus, Tam, that's some cough.' He says, 'Fuck off! Did you pass the graveyard on the way in here?' I says, 'Aye.' He says, 'Well, the graveyard's full of people that would fucking love my cough.'
And that's basically my philosophy: if you think you're having a bad time, the graveyard's full of people who would love to be doing what you're doing.