Dear Rachel,

I’m ungrateful! At least that’s what my parents and friends tell me. They say I never appreciate anything anyone does for me, and that I’m always finding fault with everyone and everything. Nothing’s ever good enough—the weather, the music, the service, the gift, the compliment. They say I always find what to complain about, and that I should be grateful for all my blessings. But you know, Rachel, sometimes I just don’t see them, and even if I do, there are so many things wrong and well . . . missing.

No Gratitude

Dear Striving to Be Grateful,

I’m grateful you brought up this topic. We live in a world with greater affluence and convenience than ever before, andThings that are important to you may not be as important to others yet people seem so unhappy. I wouldn’t be so quick to call yourself ungrateful; there could be many reasons for your lack of enthusiasm. You could be very sensitive, or you could have very high expectations. Things that are important to you may not be as important to others.

Still, gratitude is important for a happy and meaningful life, and it’s a mitzvah to be happy. Jews start the day with the “Modeh Ani” prayer, thanking G‑d for another day of life. The first blessings we say in the morning are thanking G‑d for the most basic things—being Jewish, being free, being able to see, having clothes . . . things most people take for granted which, unfortunately, many cannot. So if you don’t already say these morning blessings, I suggest you start. It helps to keep things in perspective. Tehillim (the Book of Psalms) is also full of gratitude to G‑d.

Another obstacle to gratefulness is holding on to the belief that something has to be a certain way. The sun has to shine today, I must get a watch for my birthday, I need to weigh 120 pounds, my friend/spouse/parent has to treat me a certain way. The more expectations we have, the more we’re going to be disappointed.

Look for the good in whatever situation you’re in. If you were planning to go on a hike and it starts to rain, go sit somewhere warm and have a hot chocolate, or make some popcorn and sit down with a good book. If someone buys you a present you don’t quite like and you can’t return it, look for ways to enjoy it, and focus on the thought and love behind the gift. (Or pass it on to someone else.) If plans change, look for the possibility in them. It’s a choice. The glass is always full, even if it is full of air.

Any time somebody does something to annoy or disappoint you, look for something to praise about them. Look for the good in any event that doesn’t turn out the way you would have liked and in any person who doesn’t live up to your expectations. It doesn’t take more effort to see the good than to see the bad; we just have negativity as a default mechanism. And not just you—almost everyone. It’s our work to defy this part of ourselves and say: “No, you’re wrong, this is good.”

We take a lot for granted in our lives, and although there are many disappointments and very difficult experiences, most ofEvery day write several things you're grateful for the time we just suffer from the annoyances of life. The Talmud defines suffering as someone who reaches into his pocket and pulls out the wrong coin. Our sages were not oblivious to the real pain caused by minor irritations. However, there are also many great things we are privileged to have, enjoy and experience, and if we focus on those, we’ll feel less inclined to complain.

So, go to a stationery store and buy the prettiest hard-cover notebook you can find and turn it into a gratitude journal. Every day, write several things you’re grateful for. Try to write at least 10. They could be about the weather, food you’ve eaten, a song you love, a laugh you shared with someone, or simply the fact that you are healthy and alive, and able to write in your notebook.

Don’t let people label you. You are full of gratitude you don’t yet recognize.

Just one last point. When we feel that something is missing, it is because we are longing for something and that creates an unease that affects everything else.

Ask yourself what that “missing” thing is. Is it emotional (you’re looking for love)? Is it spiritual (you want to have more of G‑d in your life)? Is it physical (you need to be more active)? Is it professional (you feel you’re not actualizing yourself)? Is it a lack of social or intellectual stimulation, or do you just need to have more fun? Are you in an uncomfortable life situation that you’re not recognizing or don’t feel you have the power to change? Learn to differentiate between trivial dissatisfaction and a longing for something important that’s not there.

Remember: People who are happy are grateful, and people who are grateful are happy.

Wishing you contentment always and lots of things to write in your gratitude journal!