Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Wisdom from a Fishing Village in Mexico

A friend recently told me this wonderful story and I am excited to share it with all of you. I hope you enjoy the story and my words about gratitude that follow.

In this blog...
Part I: The Story
Part II. It Is Possible Wherever You Are, Right Where You Are
Part III. How to Feel More Grateful

Part I: The Story

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

"And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

Part II. It Is Possible Wherever You Are, Right Where You Are

Thanksgiving seems to be one of the few days where the average American slows down enough to be present with the joy in their life. Like the consultant in the story, we are so often focused on creating, accomplishing, and moving forward that we often fail to appreciate what we do have. I'm not saying that we should all just hang out and go fishing but what I want to bring attention to is the idea that both are possible - and not just on Thanksgiving Day.

So what is it about Thanksgiving Day that makes it easier for people to get in touch with the joy in their lives and appreciate what they already have? The practice of being grateful. Gratitude is a lens through which anyone can see and experience joy in the moment - wherever they are, right where they are. To be grateful is to be present. Gratitude takes us out of our heads and into the present experience of joy.

Sometimes it's easy to be grateful and sometimes it takes admittedly more effort. But even in the most painful and challenging times we always have a choice. We can choose to be grateful for what we have or we can focus on what we don't have. The following story illustrates the ability that we all have to choose to be grateful in the most extenuating circumstances.

Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi born woman, activist and social entrepreneur, tells a story of a refugee who she met in Africa. The refugee told Zainab about being raped, witnessing the murder of her many children, and walking for 14 years without ever being able to sleep in the same place for more than 5 nights. Zainab asked her what she was grateful for and the African woman responded, "I am grateful for the toenails on my feet that have regrown after 14 years on the road."

Part III. How to Feel More Grateful

What are you grateful for? Take a few minutes, even just one minute, to write down what you are grateful for. Give it a try (and I will too) and check in with yourself after a few minutes. You may find that you need more than a minute or two once you get going. When you are finished, ask yourself, "What feels different?"

I often recommend that my life coaching clients keep a gratitude journal. I have done this myself and I found it to be a powerful way to connect to things in my life that bring me joy, cultivate presence, and feel happier in general. It can be especially valuable in challenging times. Keeping a gratitude journal is the daily (or weekly) practice of taking a few minutes to connect to what you are grateful for and write it all down in a journal. If you start this practice please send me an email in a few weeks and share your experience.

No comments: