Plants growing out of jars full of money

When I hear someone say, “Be thankful for what you have, there are plenty of people out there who wish they had what you have”, it always hits a little nerve. Not because I don’t believe that this is ultimately true, but because I think too many people use this statement as a way to dismiss your feelings or to make you feel bad for wanting better in your life.

Which begs the question: If we want a better job, a better house (bigger or smaller), a better relationship, etc., are we being greedy? Are we being ungrateful for what we have if we seek out better for ourselves?

Some would say yes. They would say that we need to be thankful for what we are given and not be constantly searching for more. There are those out there who feel that the world only has so much to give. If we seek more, if we seek to better ourselves, then we are just being greedy. We should take what we’re given and be thankful for it. I liken this to someone saying, “you’ll take what I give you and you’ll be grateful for it”. They care nothing about whether you’re actually happy or not.

We’ve all heard some version of the “be thankful for what you have” statement at some point in our lives. What most people mean when they say this, is that we should always try to look for the positives in our lives. This is great advice and I encourage everyone to do this on a regular basis. Doing so is often enough to break us out of our little blah moments. We humans have a tendency to only look at the bad things in our lives, and then to spiral and think that the whole world is bad. Being grateful for what we do have helps us to stay in a place of peace, it helps us to stay centered and balanced, and it helps us to be happier in general.

However, just “being thankful for what you have” doesn’t mean that you should stay somewhere that you are completely unhappy just because you have it better than someone else.

If you are in a job that you hate, and you know you’re meant for something else, saying this does not mean that you have to stay there forever. Being thankful for what you have can help you to see the positive side of the job that you have, until you can find another one that you like better.

If you’re in a relationship that you know hasn’t been working for a while, you can use this phrase to find the positives in the relationship, find the lessons, and then move on. Then you can take those positive lessons into your next relationship. You will know more about what you want and don’t want from the beginning.

Too often people act like, if you were more positive about your situation then it would instantly get better. While this is somewhat true, a perspective change can make things significantly better for you, it’s not going to be like waving a magic wand. It’s also not going to suddenly make a place or a situation right for you, if it’s truly not a good fit.

There are those people out there who, consciously or subconsciously, don’t want to see you move forward in life. Telling you to be thankful with what you have is their version of saying, “suck it up buttercup, life sucks, I’ve had it rough so why should you have it any differently”. Misery loves company. People who aren’t happy with their own situation, who aren’t willing to do anything about it, will try to keep you on their level. This helps them to feel better about their decision to stay where they aren’t happy. If you aren’t happy either, then they can say that’s just how life is. If you break away and do better for yourself, then they have to face up to the fact that they are choosing not to change their situation.

When some people say this, they genuinely don’t know any other way. They have been taught that you do what you have to do to get through. They don’t understand or see that things could be any different, because they have never known anyone who has stepped outside of the box. This is where you can be a light for those around you. You can take steps towards the life that you want and show others that it is possible for them to do so as well.  

Another thing “being thankful for what you have” doesn’t mean is, just because you have more than someone doesn’t mean that your feelings aren’t valid. There is always someone who has less than you do. Just because you have a spouse and someone else doesn’t, doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to ever get frustrated or annoyed with them. Just because someone else doesn’t have a house as nice as yours, doesn’t mean that you aren’t sometimes allowed to complain about having to clean it. Just because you have a good job and someone else doesn’t, doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to complain about your boss or co-workers from time to time. 

The key is that we don’t get caught up in this complaining and let ourselves spiral into thinking everything around us is bad. Give yourself time to vent, then look at the positives, find the lesson, and move on.

(If you find yourself dwelling a little too long in the realm of the complainer, then you can always enlist a professional to help you see your way out. If you are doing nothing but complaining about your spouse, or your boss, or everything in life, then you need to take a deeper look at the reasons for why you’re doing this.)

When you start to get down about your life and someone tells you to be thankful for what you have because there are others who wish for those things, however they may or may not mean it, take it as a sign to see the positive, learn the lesson, and take the steps necessary to make your dreams a reality. If this means staying where you are, getting through a bad day or two, and finding happiness again, then do so. If it means changing your position, your trajectory in life, then do so and be thankful for the path that is opening up for you.

Either way, seek out better for your life every chance you get. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be thankful for what we have, because we should, but we should always be looking for ways to learn, to improve, and to be even happier than we are now. There is not a cap on how happy we are allowed to be. Seeking to improve our lives and our situation is never greedy or selfish, unless it’s done in a greedy or selfish way. There is more than enough in this great world for everyone.