By Jessie Funk
Renewed in gratitude, I recently returned from my third trip to the continent of Africa. When I was 18, I went to Kenya with a service organization that builds schools. Three years ago, I went to Ghana to work at an orphanage. Last month I returned to that same orphanage and had such an incredible experience! This trip went to the next level for one reason – I was with my daughter. Since the day she was born, I planned to take her there and let Africa teach her what it taught me when I was 18. Janessa is only 13 right now but she is lightyears ahead of where I was at her age, so I knew she could handle it. She will never again see what she saw there. She will never again feel what she felt there. She will never forget what she learned there. Serving 60 beautiful orphans for two weeks can help anyone shift their paradigm and feel grateful for the smallest things, things we take advantage of and take for granted, every single day here in the United States.
These children don’t get to have perfectly clean clothes. Most of their clothes were tattered and torn but they are grateful for them. When they have a tummy ache, they don’t have a mother they can run to, who will rock them and soothe them, but they are grateful for the friends and staff members who try their best to share their love. They don’t get to choose what they eat, they can’t just go to a pantry full of food and pick out whatever sounds yummy. They eat what is served to them and they are grateful for it. They don’t get to go to a sparkling clean school and receive the cutting edge of educational curriculum. They all sit in a dirty school house with a crumbling blackboard, but they work so hard anyway and they are grateful for the opportunity to learn.
Practicing gratitude is a shortcut to happiness. Make a list in your head of everything you are grateful for: air conditioning, clean running water, flushing toilets, clean sheets on your bed, people in your circle who breathe life into you, the opportunity to live in a world with police officers – who most of the time, genuinely want to protect and serve, firefighters, social workers, decent paved roads, washing machines, dishwashers, dishes to eat off of in the first place, and yes, even school. There is so much to be grateful for, but you will always see what you’re looking for. If you’re constantly thinking about how you don’t have the latest iPhone, the coolest designer jeans, 1,000 likes or double taps, etc., if you’re only thinking about what you don’t have, you will feel like you have nothing. If you choose to focus on what you do have and how grateful you are for those things, you will begin to see all the good in your life.