It’s an experience universal to the human condition:
“Somebody went on vacation and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt.”
That kind of dissatisfaction looms especially large at Christmas time when we are regaled with ads about all the great stuff we don’t have. I know that feeling of want. We just had results in for the yearly Home Lottery. All those juicy prizes dancing in your head, and then draw day arrives. The most we’ve ever won over ten years of buying tickets is a dog hair vacuum and we don’t even OWN a dog. My version of the T-shirt is, “Someone out there got a multi-million dollar home, and all I got was this lousy dog-hair vacuum.” Except this year, we didn’t win ANYTHING. I ache with latent indignation.
When we don’t win, there’s quite an urge for dissatisfaction to set in. Those people become BITTER and disengaged. It’s the one you are beating in Monopoly who suddenly upends the game and walks away, saying he doesn’t want to play anymore. There’s a great temptation when you are not winning, to stamp your feet and leave the game altogether.
Human beings are geared to seeing things completed. Sticking with it is like the “participation” ribbons kids get at school. It shows that even if you did not win, it was still worthwhile to compete. You show by staying in the game, a basic faith in the goodness of being alive.
I recently stumbled across an elderly gentleman named Eddie Jaku - self-described as the “Happiest man in the world”. He died just last year at the ripe old age of 101, but was able to dispense some wisdom before departing. When you hear a moniker like that, you are FORCED to listen to what that person has to say, both because of his age, and because of his claim. Eddie should have been a bitter man, because he was a Holocaust survivor who lost everything at Auschwitz. Instead, he lived on to see his own children, and his children’s children. His secret power to longevity, was gratitude.
In his popular Ted Talk Ed says:
“I was not a happy man immediately after the war — but my outlook changed when my first son was born. At that time, my heart was healed and my happiness returned. From that day until the end of my life, I promised to be happy, smile, to be polite, helpful, and kind. Today, I stand in front of you, as a man who has kept all those promises.”
I am reminded in those occasional stats that make the email chain, that some of the self-identified happiest people in the world often live in the poorest countries. Their lives exist somewhere just above the sustenance level, and yet they describe themselves as happy. It offends the first world imagination.
I just started with the yearly task of getting down all the Christmas ornaments. There are shelves in our garage dedicated to all the decorations we have collected over the years. There are dozens of boxes. With every one I open, I revisit every Christmas we’ve had together as a family.
It seems Eddy Jaku hit on something very basic we can forget at Christmas time. In honour of the happiest man on earth, and all those who can be happy without all the “things”, I am revisiting my own “ALL I GOT” statement. No more “All I got was this lousy T-Shirt.” No more “All I got was a Dog Hair Vacuum”. My own Christmas rumination is going to leave room for gratitude.
All I Got this Christmas is...
My kids, both individually and as a group
The email chain I enjoy with all my brothers every single day throughout the year.
A safe and beautiful city
A warm home
Food in the fridge
Things to look back on
Things to look forward to
People to do it all WITH
And that’s just a start. Once I think it over, I am truly blessed. It’s true that Amazon is getting rich this Christmas. Still, all I want for Christmas this year is all the stuff I already have.