Blessings: A reflection on our response to what we have

I find it very ironic that the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday. A day dedicated to gratitude is followed by a day that is all about buying more stuff; a day about thanks followed by a day about greed. I would like to talk about gratitude. We are very ungrateful people, and teenagers and young adults (including myself) tend to not realize how blessed they really are. I tend to get caught up in my own head, envious of others and blind to the wonderful things all around me. 

Something I hear very often is complaints about “the rich” in our country. We ignore the fact that, compared to world history, we are staggeringly rich. The fact that you and I are at college right now attests to our bountiful wealth. Sixty years ago, only 7.7% of Americans over the age of 25 had graduated from college. In 2020, the statistic was 37.9%. Not only that, but we live in the richest time in known history. In 1960, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the entire world was $1.39 trillion (in current U.S. dollars). Today, it is $96.1 trillion. In church a few weeks ago, a visiting bishop preached about the story of the rich man and Lazarus. He said this: “We are the rich man in that story.”

Indeed, our standards of living today are such that phones, the internet, and cars are requirements for modern life. These pieces of technology did not even exist until recently, and now they are almost universal in our lives. Air conditioning was invented near the start of the 20th century. As the Department of Energy points out, “Once considered a luxury, this invention is now an essential.” A vast majority of American households own televisions. Many things that were once considered luxuries are now commonplace. 

When it comes to disease, too, we are so far advanced beyond our predecessors. Cystic fibrosis was discovered in the 1930s. The life expectancy for an infant with the disease was 6 months. Modern treatment has raised the average life expectancy to over 30 years. Smallpox used to kill millions every year. Now, it survives only in laboratories. For myself, when I was younger I had appendicitis. If I had lived a few centuries earlier, it is quite possible I would have died from the condition. Instead, because of the wonders of surgery, I am alive. Many of my family have had serious health conditions over the years, but, thanks to the blessings of modern medicine, they are alive and well today.

I’m not encouraging apathy about genuine difficulties and problems in the world. What I am trying to do is encourage gratitude. Yes, there is injustice; yes, there is inequality; yes, there is poverty in this world. But we are so blessed in ways that most of us fail to acknowledge. I personally am so blessed in countless ways. What if we spent more time being thankful for all that we have, instead of being envious of the things we don’t have?  

Sources: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Energy, American Museum of Natural History, Statista, The World Bank

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