By Tomiwa Adeyemo, Staff Writer
On October 21st, I signed up as a volunteer for an app I saw on Twitter called “Be My Eyes.” It’s an innovative idea, a free app that “that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.” (Be My Eyes). As of this moment, there’s 105,137 blind individuals and 1,802,732 volunteers, so it took a while for me to receive my first call. When it finally did happen a month later, right before thanksgiving, it was in the humblest of terms, life changing for me.
My first Be My Eyes caller was an older lady of about sixty-five and she lived in Detroit. We introduced ourselves and I helped her read the message the maintenance team had left on her door, after which I proceeded to assist her with sorting out her groceries. As I read out the names of the cans of food so she could sort them, we spoke about a lot, ranging from her thanksgiving plans to how she managed with her blindness. She hadn’t been born blind but had a family history of glaucoma and she lost her sight relatively later in life, in her fifties. Despite this, she let me know her condition didn’t hold her back much. She was a mentor to young blind girls and an organizer. She was also able to maneuver through her apartment with ease, and even considered making some chili for her apartment’s thanksgiving feast the next day. I was surprised by her responses, but it was her overall attitude that floored me and made me reflect deeply on my life and my attitude. If someone who had what I would have considered a debilitating disease could be so positive and upbeat, then why should I, as someone who was lucky enough to escape this disease, not be?
I’m a big believer of the saying “everything happens for a reason” and the significance of this call occurring just a day before thanksgiving did not escape me. As I said earlier, it led me to reflect deeply on my attitude. Despite the fact that I’ve had a relatively easy life compared to most of my peers, I did have periods where I would go through occasional bouts of ingratitude where I would complain about slight, insignificant things. The overbearing message I took from that call was the value of putting things in context and being more grateful. They say comparison is the thief of joy but I also see it as a great tool that forces us to put things into perspective. Scrolling through The Rock or Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram feed might not make you feel happy with yourself or the state of your life, but reading an article on one of the many global crises around the world should shock some gratitude into you real quick.
The emotion of gratitude can be hard to cultivate for several reasons. The first and key reason (in my opinion) is that as I argued in a previous article, we live in a materialistic society of haves and have nots where we erroneously equate the accumulation of “things” to value or happiness. Through advertising, we’re constantly inundated with the appeal of things we don’t need and often can’t have. However, let’s be realistic. As the Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson would say, life is full of suffering and malevolence. Basically….it’s hard to be grateful. It’s hard to be grateful when everywhere you turn—through your tv, phone or laptop—there’s an ad to constantly prod you and suggest that you don’t have enough. There’s always more to “have.” I imagine these ads as voices in my head going: “I saw your last purchase on Amazon. What do you think about this?” “It’s a dangerous world out there, you need to get this” and so on. Its hard to be grateful when you work a 9-5 job for a measly (or average) wage that barely pays the bills, as the inequality gap between the rich and poor steadily widens. Bottom line: It’s hard to be grateful at all. Despite this, what is hard is often what is worth doing and it is certainly worth your time to be grateful. The emotion of self-gratitude has many well-touted benefits from improved quality of life to being intrinsically rewarded, the most powerful sort of reward we can get. We all (particularly the younger kids facing an epidemic of depression) would do well to cultivate the habit of gratitude.
Another benefit of gratitude that I believe deserves its own paragraph is that gratitude shifts your focus. Life is all about focus and what we choose to pay attention to. Cultivating the attitude of gratitude means that we have chosen to pay attention to what is good in life rather than what is bad. Cultivating the attitude of gratitude means that we have chosen to look for the silver lining in every situation, no matter how blurry that line may be. Gratitude breeds positivity and in the journey through life, positivity is a potent weapon to arm ourselves with.