Yesterday morning I was chatting with a client about holiday plans, and she brought up her strong desire to prevent her children from feeling entitled to gifts and toys just because it’s Christmas.
I thought this was incredibly admirable and a viewpoint more people – especially in America – should take into consideration. We are a culture obsessed with “things”. And not just any “thing”, but the latest, greatest, most innovative “thing.”
Take iPhones for example. We save up our money to get the latest model, are excited for a couple of weeks by the new technology, then quickly become dissatisfied and start anticipating the new “S Model” coming in a few months.
It’s hard to remember to be grateful for all that we have, especially the things we feel entitled to. I’m not saying we all feel entitled to a new iPhone, but I bet most of us have become so accustomed to life with a smartphone, that we certainly take it for granted.
And not just smartphones, but technology in general. Laptops, wifi, video and music streaming, GPS, social media…these privileges are such a major part of our culture that we feel entitled to them. Occasionally we may see something online or in the media that puts things in perspective and reminds us how lucky we are to live in a first world country, but even when we take a moment to appreciate all of these advanced things we have at our fingertips, we still rarely remember to appreciate the simple things like our health, our freedom, our loved ones, our homes, our ability to read and write, our down time, our opportunities, etc.
I’m a huge personal growth buff, so I read and listen to a lot of books and podcasts. As I hear other people’s stories and the challenges they had to overcome, I try to always turn the focus inward and apply it directly to my life. Even if that just means feeling incredibly grateful for never having to go through the shit they had to go through.
A couple of months ago, I was listening to the Tim Ferris Podcast on my flight home from Hawaii and one episode struck me particularly hard. It was titled, “The Man Who Studied 1,000 Deaths to Learn How to Live.”
The man being interviewed has not only helped thousands of people in hospice care prepare for the end of their lives by making it as pleasurable and peaceful as possible, but he is also a triple amputee who is filled with gratitude and determination.
He didn’t let losing both legs and an arm stop him from becoming a doctor, a popular TED talker, or the executive director of an incredible business that makes a major impact in people’s lives (and deaths), and on top of all that, he figured out a way to ride a motorcycle again through the use of prosthetic limbs and hand-shifting.
This man’s story has stuck with me ever since that flight, and I’ve made a point to try not to take my health, my body, or my life circumstances for granted. Whenever I get hit with a series of unfortunate events or low points, I remind myself to be grateful for what I do have.
I have full use of all of my limbs (actually, my brother did cut off one of my fingers when I was 3 years old, but they were able to sew it back on and I got full use back!); I’m in good health; I’m well educated; I have a job; I have access to clean drinking water; I can eat whenever I’m hungry; I have my own living space that’s warm during the winter and cool during the summer; I have more clothes, technology, and “comforts” than I need; I get to travel frequently; and I have the freedom to choose how to spend my days – just to name a few.
Last year I spent Christmas in Australia by myself, but FaceTiming my family was by far the highlight of my holidays, and I felt so incredibly grateful for the ability to see their faces and speak to them as if we were together even when we were on complete opposite sides of the world.
Right now I’m at the airport, about to hop on a plane up to Seattle where I will spend the weekend with my family and friends – laughing, talking, sharing food, playing games, and making memories.
I live for experiences, and Christmastime is no different. That’s why I love this time of year so much, it’s such a heartwarming experience. It’s the only time of the year people are more focused on others than they are on themselves. It’s the time for people to come together, share, and lift each other’s spirits.
In the spirit of feeling grateful for all that I have and giving back, it’s been a tradition of mine every year to donate to one of my favorite charities – charity:water. There are a lot of great causes that need support out there, but I personally have always been drawn to helping those who don’t have access to the most basic human need (something I am certain every person in western civilization takes for granted) – water!
There are 663 million people in the world who don’t have access to clean water. When I first started donating to charity:water 5 years ago the number was closer to 1 billion people who didn’t have access to clean water, so they have already made a huge impact in reducing the number of families who are denied something that we have an unlimited supply of.
Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. And nearly half of those deaths are children under five years old. Access to clean water and basic sanitation can save around 16,000 lives every week.
As I made my Christmas donation this morning, I decided to write this post to challenge you to do the same. Every donation will be matched (which means DOUBLE the funds towards bringing clean water to these families) for the holidays. That’s what the “spirit of giving” is supposed to mean. It’s not just about spoiling your loved ones with more toys and high-end goodies than they could ever possibly need.
I choose charity:water because 100% of donations go directly towards clean water projects in third world countries. You can even track the progress of the projects so you know exactly what your donation is going towards.
So, this Christmas I challenge you to be grateful for the things we take for granted every day, and I challenge you to consciously give up ONE thing (maybe a gift for yourself or returning a gift someone else got you) and donate that amount to charity:water so that you can give someone else the gift of clean water and a life with their family.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!