Gratitude, Not Guilt

Living in the first world, we’re a privileged bunch. I’ve had the good fortune of being raised in two different worlds: the developing and developed for almost an equal number of years. I have seen both the good and the ugly.

I would often reflect on the good things in my life right now compared to how things were: clean water, clean air, great roads, my health, a great well-paying job, my health, no debt to speak off, supportive family, my education, etc etc and there would often be a sense of guilt about it.

As if I should be doing more with the opportunities I have been presented. A sense of wanting to feel worthy of the gifts that life has given me. I would instead beat myself up for not doing more, not producing more, not flying in a higher ring of success in all aspects of life. It was a never ending journey of seeking worthiness.

Perhaps if you too have seen such contrast in your life, you may feel that you do not deserve the things you have. You approach these gifts with a sense of guilt.

Unfortunately, this guilt is crushing. It defeats one’s spirit, and grinds one down. You can never really enjoy the gifts you get, nor can you ever work your way up to feel “worthy” of them.

However, when we pick gratitude over guilt, the whole dynamic changes. A simple analogy might help:

You see two beggars everyday on your way to work/school/wherever. Both seem like good men who have fallen on hard times. They are not able to find jobs, their money was gone through twists in fortunate. They are both trying really hard to rise above their circumstances.

You reach to the first beggar and present him your money. He shrinks back from it. He apologizes for wanting your money. He berates himself as he takes the money. He grovels at your feet claiming “I am not worthy!! I don’t deserve this. Please…the responsibility that comes from taking this $100 is too much. Now you expect me to build myself up again and that’s too much. I can’t do it. Ahh! I’m so sorry!”

I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I would want to take my money back from such a person. The attitude of guilt is not a very positive one. Life doesn’t feel good about giving. And sure enough, the greater guilt you feel, the less gifts life gives you. This has been my direct experience.

Now go down the street and give the $100 to the second beggar. He immediately gets up and thanks you for it. He offers his gratitude and tells you that he will use that money to buy some food for the week, and get himself cleaned up so he can go in and find a job.

The second person appeals to me a lot more. That’s who I would feel good about giving my gift to.

And that’s how I’ve started to relate to my life. There is freedom in gratitude. There is the burden of responsibility and obligation in guilt. Life rewards me more when I relate to it with gratitude.

A good place to start is to reflect on what gifts you feel guilty for having in life. If you’re feeling undeserving, or not positive about it, it is likely that you are coming from a place of guilt. If you drop that mindset, a whole new world will open up for you.

You will approach your life with less neediness and more freedom. The gifts will actually be put to good use that way. So that you can get in the business of making your life a gift back to the world. And that’s what matters.

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