November 18, 2010

Gratitude for Desperados

In concerts this year, the Eagles are playing “Desperado” as their final song. It seems fitting. The song’s warning about the perils of seeking peace of mind in material things comes at a time when a lot of people are struggling, working harder than ideally they should, to control their material surroundings.

Where does this struggle come from? The song explains it this way: “Now it seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table, but you only want the ones that you can’t get.” If you focus on what you could have while forgetting what you do have, it can make life difficult.

This happens in the most mundane sense when we go shopping for things we’ve forgotten we already have. It’s hard to stop and take a good look at everything we have because it’s a reminder of how much we haven’t done. But if we get to the point of forgetting what we have, we lose all the benefit of having it.

The Thanksgiving holiday is coming up in the United States, and it suggests a solution to this problem. Start by getting yourself in a thankful state of mind. Feel grateful, or as grateful as you can manage, to have the things you have. Then, in that state of mind, go looking through the things, preparing to rediscover things that are of value to you.

To be sure, you’ll also find a lot of things that are no longer relevant to your life. But if you’re feeling the emotion of gratitude, you won’t get bogged down in the clutter. You can focus more on the valuable things you have, which are the more important possessions to remind yourself of. Knowing what you have is an important first step toward getting life under control.

Later, when you’re feeling more like a desperado again, fed up with the struggle and complexity of life, it may be a good time to circle back and haul away the junk that you saw in between the valuable stuff. In that moment, in one of the ironies of emotion, the previous experience of viewing your possessions with gratitude makes it easier to let go, even as the current feeling of frustration, exasperation, or desperation makes it easier to take action.

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