My friend Donna had an interesting experience awhile ago—she compared it to winning the lottery. She was so touched by this experience that she mentioned how grateful she was for things she normally takes for granted every day: water, trees, electricity, and more. So what kind of extraordinary good fortune came Donna’s way? Why was she feeling so grateful, so lucky? Here’s what happened: nothing happened.
You see, Donna lives near Vero Beach, Florida, and a hurricane was heading in her direction. She and her husband did everything they could to prepare for the storm—for 90 mph winds and drenching rains. But nothing happened. A few gusts of wind—some intermittent rain. That was it. That’s why Donna felt like she won the lottery. Nothing happened.
When was the last time you felt grateful because nothing happened? Nobody crashed into your car on the way home from work. The electricity didn’t go out. You didn’t wake up with a toothache. You didn’t have a heart attack. Nobody shot at you or robbed your home while you were gone.
There are people who are living in war zones at this very moment. Just look at the news and you can find those areas on a map. Many of those people are very aware at the end of the day that nobody in their family was killed and their home wasn’t destroyed by a bomb or hand grenade. Because they live with that awareness every day, they also are aware when nothing happens to hurt them.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance your life is relatively safe—so safe that safety isn’t on your mind. So when nothing happens, you don’t feel particularly grateful. You expect to be safe, just as you expect the light to go on when you hit the switch on the wall. But when you expect to die or you expect your home to be destroyed, “nothing happened” is a miracle.
My friend Donna, described it like this:
The extraordinary thing about this hurricane is that everyone knew it was coming. For days, the weather channels tracked the hurricane moving up the eastern seaboard and predicting where it would turn west and hit land. Generally we don’t get much advance warning with natural disasters like earthquakes or tornados. So tens of millions of people watched and waited. And the force of the hurricane destroyed homes, turned cars into boats, and, in some cases, took lives. But for millions of people, “nothing happened.” We sat safely in our homes and watched the gusts of wind and listened to the rain on our roofs while we read a book and checked our email. And many of us experienced a sincere and authentic moment of gratefulness. We were worried, anxious, even fearful. And nothing happened.
So here’s our challenge: to allow our hearts and minds to be touched by gratitude without the presence of a hurricane. To appreciate life and the grace by which we wake up each day and go to sleep in safety. To recognize that our personal safety is a gift and something we have little control over. We may survive a hurricane and have a heart attack the next day. Our lives are all hanging by a thread. It makes us nervous to think about it, so we try not to. But that thread has held us up since we were born. And once in a while it’s good to notice it so we can be thankful for it.
“Nothing happened” isn’t particularly exciting. It’s not as entertaining as a good movie. It’s not intellectually challenging, nor is it adorable like a baby kitten. But when you expect the worst and nothing happens, it’s worthy of celebration. A celebration of the fact that despite all of our problems and aches and pains and financial challenges and relationship conflicts we’re alive and we’re breathing and at the moment, we’re safe. So take a moment and sit back. And breathe in “nothing happened.” And breathe out a breath of thanks. Gratitude for just being able to breathe. Now that’s really something!
Excerpted from Question Your Life: Naikan Self-Reflection and the Transformation of our Stories, by Gregg Krech. ToDo Books, November 2017. Reprinted with permission.
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