August 15, 2019

Let’s Stop Comparing ourselves to Starving Children in Africa.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and cannot possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.



It’s a quality we all strive to incorporate into our lives—and rightfully so, as the world needs more people who appreciate what they already have. Maybe then we can stop pretending we need so much excess.

Gratitude is about recognizing the importance of feeling thankful for the life that flows through your veins and the air that passes through your lungs and the body that encompasses your beating heart.

No matter your socioeconomic place in life, gratitude, when practiced, allows us to appreciate the beauty of life, rather than focus on the intricacies that might shift our mindset to a negative state.

We’ve heard time and time again that it’s so important to be grateful for the simple grace of being alive. That this life will quickly pass, ephemeral beast that it is, and we’ll soon find ourselves as part of an unknown abyss, so we should appreciate the ups and downs of living while it lasts. That we’re lucky to have ever lived in the first place, what with the thousand other sperms competing for the chance to latch onto an egg and blossom into the strange genetic phenomenon that is a human being.

These are beautiful thoughts, and should be practiced often (maybe you don’t need to focus on the sperm so much).

What becomes dangerous in the art of practicing gratitude is when we start to compare ourselves with someone else’s misery in order to feel better about our life.

Social media and online publications and endless advertisements are constantly parading what various cultures deem to be the pinnacle of their societal standards, often with the purpose of making the viewer feel inadequate, so that these audiences will then assuage their inferiority complexes with whatever product these systems were first pushing.

Our modern world emphasizes the importance of such extreme externalities, which often sends people’s self-esteem in a tizzy, bouncing up and down and all around until it spirals out like a deflating balloon.

We have to constantly be reminded not to compare ourselves to others, to not look at the glory of these photoshopped ideals and let it make us feel less worthy, to not allow snapshots of other people’s success and best moments make us feel sh*tty about ourselves.

Yet, when it comes to exercising gratitude, this same “Beware of comparison!” notion isn’t spread.

Why not?

Why should one find gratitude only after they’ve juxtaposed their life against the hardships of someone else’s?

“Finish your dinner; there are starving children in China.” It’s a common phrase Generation X would hear going around, a generation that grew up in a newly booming American economy as the country licked its wounds from the aftermath of World War II.

I hope that I’ll never have to experience the traumas of war or the scarcity it breeds, so perhaps I’ll never understand the survival mode this puts you in.

But the idea behind this phrase is still incredibly dangerous. Why would one need to think about the hollow stomachs of impoverished children in a foreign country in order to appreciate their meal, let alone eat past their natural comfort level?

And this isn’t the only time these sort of ideas have surfaced.

I don’t know how many times I’ve scrolled through Facebook to find pictures of American opulence stacked against images of an obscure homeless person, with some aggressive capital letters spread across the top: “APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE.”

It’s a beautiful thought, to appreciate what you have, but does that mean if there was no one suffering beside you, you’d be incapable of appreciating it? Isn’t that the sort of mentality that leads to greed, that leads to extreme disparity in wealth?

Gratitude is beautiful. Seeing how lucky we are to be alive, to know even a few good people, to feel even a few laughs, to give and receive even an ounce of immeasurable love—it’s a practice the world needs more of.

But gratitude that depends on the comparison of other human beings’ misery can lead to a toxic mentality.

Just like when you compare yourself to the selfie-made-stars of Instagram or the opulent (but still very human) lives of celebrities, your esteem runs the risk of collapsing.

Gratitude is not about walking down the street, spotting 20 homeless people, going home, and smiling because you have a warm bed.

It’s not about looking at pictures of famished children around the globe and spooning extra mouthfuls into your own baby’s mouth, just in case.

It’s not about looking at someone who is perhaps less bright, less attractive, less strong, less courageous, less innovative, less anything than you, and allowing that to make you feel better about your own qualities.

Gratitude is simply about being grateful for what you have in your life, for what you cherish.

Without ever, ever, ever needing to imagine anyone with anything less for it to give you value.


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