“You live in a world of rainbows and unicorns” my father has said to me on more than one occasion, commenting on my never-ending drive to make the world that currently exists match the idyllic version that only exists in my head. The disconnect between our current reality and the way I think things should be drives a lot of the work I do, and in many ways, drives me to be a better person. I don’t accept the inequitable system of education that currently exists in our country, so I volunteer tutor elementary students at my neighborhood school. I don’t accept the systemic racism that exists in our workplaces and institutions, so I co-facilitate discussions on discrimination in the workplace. I don’t accept the deplorably high child poverty rates in our city, so I campaign to give every kid a quality early education and shift their life trajectory.
But sometimes, this powerful drive for change makes it difficult for me to appreciate all of the amazing things that already exist my life and in our world. It makes it difficult for me to be grateful.
So, of course, I am looking to change that too.
Gratitude is a strength highly correlated with life satisfaction. Being able to appreciate the good things in life allows you to celebrate what’s working well and experience more positive emotions and less negative emotions. So how do I continue to push for the change I want to see while also appreciating things as they exist? I am reminded of a quote from Helen Keller, “Be happy with what you have, while working for what you want.” With this in mind, I devised an experiment. Every time I feel my passion start to rise and the burning desire to create change, I will take a minute to be grateful for something related to whatever I am feeling passionate about.
Great experiment, right? Then the election happened, and thus the ultimate chance to test my gratitude approach.
- I’m grateful to live in a country where I can safely and freely cast a vote and have a voice in the future of my country.
- I’m grateful that my city took a bold stand for education in passing Issue 44 to provide expanded quality preschool and increased investment in K-12.
- I’m grateful for the individuals who volunteered to get people registered and to the polls to make sure as many people as possible had the opportunity to have a voice in our collective future.
Did this gratitude experiment change my reaction to the election results? No, but it did shift my perspective to include an appreciation for the system and its intention to give all Americans a voice in the direction of their country. Part of my aversion to gratitude stems from a fear that if I am too grateful I will lose my passion and drive for change, but my perspective has also shifted here. The change we make will be better if it is grounded with an appreciation of what is already good and accelerated by what it could be.
So let’s keep reaching for those unicorns while being grateful for the rainbows that we already have.
About the author: Carly joined the Mayerson Academy in July 2016 as Senior Project Manager. In her role, she provides leadership and support to innovative initiatives like Strong Cincinnati and NKU Strong. Carly received her undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati in Urban Planning. As a long-time tutor at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, she is passionate about the ability for education to change the lives of individuals and communities.