Gratitude, kindness & compassion
My parents came to Australia as refugees in the 1950s. The neighbourhood was not welcoming.
Although their English was good, their accents were strong. Australians at that time were unfamiliar with strong accents and strange European names, and their normal human reaction was to be suspicious of what they are unfamiliar with.
My father changed one of the consonants in his surname to Anglicise it. It was better than constantly having to correct peoples’ pronunciation of his name. As a man who was proud of his heritage, I don’t know if he minded doing that, but I suspect he was just so grateful at being able to raise his children in a safe and free country that this was a very small price to pay.
My father was an engineer and my mother a seamstress, so I grew up learning a balance of creative and practical skills. Of course, in the 60s there were no mobile phones, iPads, Game Boy, etc, and only very limited TV. So I was often bored. But not for long. If my sister wasn’t around or didn’t want to play with me, I would either go out to garden to explore the insect life, play made-up games inside the house or badger my mother till she let me bake something (even then, I loved to potter in the kitchen!).
Growing up in an era where there was a lack of passive entertainment was a huge gift. It forced me to be creative and also to enjoy my solitude. After all, if you can’t be happy with your own company, then how can you be happy at all? You can’t exactly leave yourself at home when you go out!
I reflect on these times now with gratitude. Life was not always easy, but I had what I needed. I think it’s important to remind myself often that in those days I had so much less than I have now, and yet it didn’t matter. We can all get so caught up in wanting more. More money, more holidays, more love, more food, more friends, more entertainment, more happiness. And in that mindset, it can be easy to think that we will never have enough.
It can help to get back to basics. Take a look at what you have, not at what you haven’t. If you feel a lack, is it real? There are more than 116,000 people homeless in Australia, in the “lucky country”. This figure is worsening yearly.
When you want to complain about your partner, your children, your job, your home, be grateful you have one to complain about.
When you want to complain about how much rubbish is on Netflix or Foxtel, take out your phone or computer and do a search for organisations where you can volunteer your spare time. If you don’t have spare time, drop some canned goods off at your local drought relief collection. Or think of other random acts of kindness you can do for your fellow human beings.
We walk this world together. Genetically you are more than 99.9% identical to the stranger you just walked past in the street, no matter what his or her cultural background. We have evolved as social animals, we need each other. Reach out to friends and strangers alike. Do what you can to ease another’s suffering. You’ll find the rewards you gain are far more than what your give.
The Dalai Lama said: “If you want to be happy, practice compassion. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion”.
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