Skip to main content

Davis Journal

Don’t rub your gratitude in other’s faces

Dec 09, 2021 09:03AM ● By Bryan Gray

My wife was upset when she saw the following statement in an obituary: “(The deceased) always said she must have been one of Heavenly Father’s favorite daughters because her life was so blessed.”

“What?” my wife uttered.  “So in this woman’s mind, God plays favorites?”

This column seldom deals with religious issues since they are complex and highly personal.  Some people seek guidance from religious authority figures while others see their faith as a buffet, choosing some ideas they agree with and tossing out the others (like an LDS member who “follows the prophet” on alcohol, coffee, and sex, but refuses President Russell Nelson’s prescription to get vaccinated.)  Still others, especially young adults, have rejected strict belief altogether.  

But in a holiday season built around gratitude, I understand my wife’s concern. Yes, we should be grateful, but not “advertise it” at the expense of others.

For instance, the often heard belief that “everything happens for a reason” implies that people get what they deserve.  Do the right things, you’ll be blessed. Yet rationally, we know that this is not really true.  Bad things happen to good people – and vice versa. 

To me, life has no screenwriter.  Much of what we do or become stems not from life choices, but from mere chance.  Be grateful that you were born to loving parents in Utah; you could just as well have been born to a starving couple in Somalia.  Feel grateful you have clean water pouring in from your kitchen tap; that doesn’t happen for 75% of the world’s population.  The man or woman faced with a lost spouse, a terminally ill child, a home destroyed by fire…These didn’t happen because the man or woman didn’t pray often enough or belonged to the wrong church.

Boasting about your good fortune can demean those who haven’t been as fortunate. The family Christmas letter (“Our oldest son John is enrolled in medical school while his brother has been accepted at M.I.T.”) can be demoralizing to those who have lesser achievements.  (Just once I’d like to see a holiday letter noting that “our son Blaine is still in rehab but doing well, and our daughter Joan is unfortunately pregnant again at age 16.”)

There is a lot for which we should feel gratitude. In the 1930s, one in every five Americans survived on food stamps. Only 30 years ago, a cancer diagnosis was a short-term death sentence.  Most of us reading this column live in abundance, a product of some choices we have made along with a lot of good luck, from parenting, genetics, and opportunity. 

But since the pie is not cut evenly, maybe we should be a little more private in expressing our gratitude. Author Kristi Nelson advises people to write down five things from your “to do” list (“I have to do laundry, I have to clean up the mess from the dog, etc.”) and then write down five things you get to do. (“I get to watch my son in his school play. I get to have a quiet evening at home with this book I’ve been wanting to ready, etc.”) Keep things in perspective.  

Be grateful – but understand that many others are in pain, so don’t rub your gratitude in their faces.