How To Be More Grateful In The New Year

01/19/2014 08:13 am ET | Updated Mar 21, 2014
Jody Gastfriend family

The contrarian in me resists making any resolutions. Most just make me feel guilty because I fail to meet my own expectations. My philosophy these days is to enjoy what I am doing and not push myself to the point of crankiness. But I do have a resolution of sorts that has nothing to do with diet, exercise or career goals. It has to do with gratitude.

Last month my husband and I circumnavigated the globe. We visited Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Madrid. We also spent a week with our son, Daniel, who is living and working in Uganda. Daniel works for a company that evaluates the impact of programs to diminish poverty, contain the spread of HIV and malaria and reduce the high rates of infant mortality in Africa.

My son is intensely passionate about his work. But sometimes his passion borders on annoying. After my husband and I have a major expenditure, such as a car or home renovation, Daniel rains on our parade by calculating the number of bed nets or deworming pills that could have been purchased instead. Visiting Daniel in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and staying in a poor rural village helped me better understand my son's intensity and accept his occasional preachiness. Daniel represents a generation of millennials who see the world as much more accessible than it was for us baby boomers. Like my son, they are drawn to developing countries -- where the standard of living is far below what they have experienced -- to work, volunteer and somehow make a difference. But the challenge is daunting. Many people in Uganda are desperately poor. I saw large families living in small mud huts with thatched roofs. I learned that children can die from conditions easily treated in the U.S., such as infections or diarrhea. I met eager young students who were forced to drop out of school because they had to help support younger siblings. Things we take for granted: running water, electricity, plumbing and Internet are a luxury. During our visit, my husband and I saw almost no one who looked older than us. This may have reflected the average life expectancy in Uganda, which is just 54 years old.

Upon my return to Boston, I had a bit of culture shock. I felt my senses were heightened as was my awareness of seemingly small conveniences that felt like little miracles. I vowed I would complain less and be more grateful for the things in life I often take for granted.

So here is a list of some of the stuff that I appreciate more these days:

  • Drinking water out of the tap
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Hot showers
  • Toilets that flush!
  • My beloved Keurig
  • ATMs that actually spit out money
  • My dual-control mattress
  • The potholed Boston roads (without any cows blocking traffic)
  • Soap
  • Supermarkets with lots and lots of food
  • Wrinkles (as they say-growing old beats the alternative)

So when things go wrong, flat tires, computer glitches and (my personal pet peeve) getting served lukewarm coffee, I hope to be more patient and put such petty annoyances in perspective. While I occasionally worry about my son living on a faraway continent, I am grateful he can pursue his dream. And by so doing, he has helped me appreciate my life with all its imperfections. So this year, I resolve to find ways to express my gratitude by paying it forward and not taking life's blessings for granted. My trip around the world was incredible, but I am happy to be home and more fully embrace the beauty of my own world.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

What Would You Say To Your 20-Year-Old Self?