I was half-complaining the other day to a friend about how boring my life is.
My friend serves with the Canadian military in Afghanistan. He had written me about his life over there -- the patrols, the snow-capped mountains, searching for IEDs, working with nationals to bring some sense of stability to that country.
Compared to his life, and the contribution he was making in the world, I told him mine was very humdrum. The most exciting thing I had done recently, I said, was put snow tires on my car.
He replied: "On behalf of myself and all of us here, please celebrate the putting on of snow tires! Rejoice that you have a car, you can buy snow tires to protect your family during the winter, you can drive on roads that are maintained and the snow is (eventually) cleared off and you do not have to worry that the car driving beside you may be loaded to the gills with explosives and driven by a guy who is willing to ignite them as soon as he sees your car."
He concluded by saying he hoped and prayed we all might "live in places and times where our children can do what they want, where we can choose our vocations, and do God's work along the way. Let us all pray for so much peace."
Of course, I know I am blessed. I have travelled in the developing world. I know how lucky I was to be born in Canada.
Even so, I am often tempted to think others must be having a much better time than me. Their lives seem so much more interesting, fulfilled and happier. Why do I so often feel that way?
That was the question Kate Bartolotta asked in an article in the Huffington Post that went viral this fall.
In the article, she wondered why we keep thinking our lives aren't already pretty good just the way they are.
Why, she wondered, do people keep buying the lie if only we had better abs or better sex -- the things most often touted on women's and men's magazines -- we will finally be fulfilled? Why do we believe we will be happy if only we have a new car, house, clothes or job?
What if, she wrote, "we choose to be happy -- right now?"
After all, she noted, "if you can read this, your life is pretty awesome. Setting aside our first-world problems and pettiness, if you are online reading this, you have both electricity and WiFi or access to them. Odds are you are in a shelter of some sort, or on a smart phone... Life might bump and bruise us, it may not always go the way we plan and I know I get frustrated with mine, but here's the thing: You are alive."
And "because you are alive, everything is possible."
She offered suggestions to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get on with being happy in life.
Look at the stars, she wrote; they remind us our "problems are both infinitesimally small and conversely," we are "a piece of an amazing and vast universe."
Learn to apologize. "The ability to sincerely apologize -- without ever interjecting the word 'but' -- is an essential skill for living around other human beings," she said. "If you are going to be around other people, eventually you will need to apologize. It's an important practice."
Practise gratitude. "Practise it out loud to the people around you. Practise it silently when you bless your food. Practise it often... gratitude is what makes what we have enough."
And, finally, be kind. Said Bartolotta: "Kindness costs us nothing and pays exponential dividends. I can't save the whole world. I can't bring peace to Syria. I can't fix the environment or the health care system, and from the looks of it, I may end up burning my dinner. But I can be kind.
"If the biggest thing we do in life is to extend love and kindness to even one other human being, we have changed the world for the better."
And that, she says, is a "lot more important than flat abs in my book."