g r a t i t u d e
Growing up, I watched my single mama struggle to make ends meet. The car gas tank was always on empty. I remember waiting in line at the food bank. I started babysitting when I was 11 and I used the money to buy my own clothes. I never asked my mom for anything because I knew she couldn’t get it for me and I never wanted her to feel inadequate.
When I was 14 years old, I got a job at Dairy Queen and made a promise to myself I would never be poor again. It’s been a decade since then and I’m proud to say that I kept that promise. I’m completely independent and financially stable. I pay my bills on time, live within my means, donate to charity, and still save a little every month. Financial stability was my number one goal for years because I thought it would make me happy. Once I achieved this goal, however, I started to want more. I set my sights on luxuries I never had as a kid. If someone had told 14 year old me that in 10 years I’d be traveling all the time, have a new car, a nice MacBook Pro, iPhone 7, live in a loft by a lake with a walk in closet filled with beautiful clothing, and a stocked refrigerator, 14 year old Ray would have been filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Fast forward to 2017 and I’m hungry for more. I own a wonderful car, but I have my sights set on a Lexus. I have enough clothes, but now I want high-end designers. I’ve grown accustomed to owning the latest technology so it doesn’t impress me the way it used to. I travel to amazing cities often, yet I find myself more stressed about flying than excited. I have everything I thought I needed to make me happy, but I’ve realized that equating material wealth with success only leaves me feeling vacant, no matter how much I obtain.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “Money doesn’t make you happy.” This is something I’ve always known, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re struggling to pay rent or buy food. This past year, I’ve realized that I practiced gratitude a lot more back when I had less. Going out to eat was such a big deal. A new pair of shoes made me feel on top of the world. When a friend would give me a ride to work or school, I would be so appreciative because I was used to busing or skating everywhere. The little things truly filled my heart with joy and appreciation.
I think it is human nature to crave something we don’t have, go somewhere we’ve never been, or achieve goals we thought we’d never accomplish. Reaching new levels is what gives us a sense of accomplishment, but these achievements will never make us happy unless we are content with who we are. If you’re feeling low, buying new things or taking vacations might take your mind off your troubles temporarily, but no amount of external gratifications will ever make you feel whole.
Waking up grateful for what you have is a major element to success, but this can be difficult. We live in a society that conditions us to always want more. My generation is constantly bombarded with subliminal and hyper-targeted advertising. I feel extremely blessed to live in the United States, but it is hard not to see the negative effects of capitalism.
Incorporating a regular practice of gratitude in my daily routine has been extremely grounding. I’ve been starting my mornings with a prayer for everything I’m thankful for and I have seen a major shift in my outlook. Although I still have material goals, I know that they don’t define my success. Having a loving relationship with myself is success. Supporting my friends and family is success. Everything else is just a bonus.