The subtle art of being gratefully dissatisfied with life

I’ve been mulling over two seemingly conflicting bits of advice I’ve received recently.

The first perspective is this…

Be grateful for what you have – what you have today is something you were praying for a very long time ago. So appreciate that you now have it.

And the second…

Don’t stagnate and settle for what you have – stay hungry, reach for something better than status quo. Don’t let the good become the enemy of the great.

In my view, both these arguments are fairly strong in their own right; and seemingly at odds with each other?

How do you appreciate what you have without letting that feeling turn into ennui and complacency?

On the other hand, is there any meaning at all to chasing newer goals if you lose the ability to feel happiness when you actually achieve them?

I’ve attempted to think this over and analyze from various angles and to be perfectly honest I don’t claim to have figured this conundrum out.

But what I do have is a theory – one that allows for a harmonious interpretation of both perspectives.

My theory is this…

Be grateful, be extremely grateful for receiving things or having opportunities that present themselves to you and flow to you because of simple good luck or good fortune.

Don’t get cocky – what you have is something that came by only partly because of your efforts, a good part of things that we’re grateful for have flown to us because of sheer good luck – example, the country you are born in, the family and friends you have, the circumstances you were raised in, even the schools you could afford to go to – these are all things that you have and these are certainly things that you ought to appreciate, because you know full well that not everyone is fortunate enough to have all the things that you have. All these wonderful things that you take for granted on most days – it doesn’t hurt to take a deep breath and feel thankful for what has come your way.

Now how do you use this to infuse the other (contradictory?) perspective?

Be dissatisfied perhaps with how you are using what you have. Sure, you were born in a safe, loving family that allowed you an opportunity to study at good schools and you’ve landed a decent job.

Ask yourself,

“Is this all I’m going to do? A lot of people don’t have access to basic education, don’t have the privilege of working in behemoth multinational firms – but I do. However, am I doing my best with these opportunities? Am I maximizing my potential and refining myself as a human being who lifts her(him)self and others up; or am I just sitting on my butt complaining about how the sparkling water in my favorite restaurant isn’t sparkly enough?”

Well, I think you and I could be doing so much more than that.

So yeah, be grateful for what you have, but always crack a whip inside your head to see if you’re making the best use of what you have to create the best kind of life for yourself. Only you know what that looks like.

If you’re not where you want to be, don’t settle for what you’re doing right now.

Push harder. Take what you have and optimize.

Even when you get to where you said you wanted to be, don’t stop. You will see that newer things have come your way now. Make the best use of those things too.

In a way, your life’s work will never be finished – you will always feel grateful of course, but simultaneously, you will know that you can do so much more than you currently are doing.

Maybe that’s what they mean when they say there’s no such thing as a perfect human being.

What are your thoughts?

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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