Teen Talk: Gratitude is key to happiness

It would seem that for all of human history, a staple of youth (especially the teenage years) is a strong desire for adulthood. And in one of nature’s most humorous and poignant ironies, many adults, both young and old, find themselves yearning for the idyllic days of childhood, free from the anxieties of adult responsibility. “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late,” Benjamin Franklin said.

Enjoying the present plays a big role in living a happy life, and as the name implies, the key to making the most out of every moment is to view each day as a gift.

A major reason of unhappiness in life is that reality does not often measure up to our expectations. This can be remedied by having gratitude for all the good things that come our way, even the ones that seemed likely to happen. The English author G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”

But, unfortunately, we spend a lot of our time trying to get more and forgetting what we already have. The great philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote that much of our lives are spent longing for the past, dreading the present, and anxiously awaiting the future. In his 17th-century book, “Pensees”, he said: “We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. We wander in the times which are not ours and do not think of the only one which belongs to us. The present is never our end. The past and present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.”

But if we reflect on all the little things in life, we see that the present gives us a lot to be happy about: spending time with a friend, a nice walk on a sunny day, a good book, a great meal or a catchy song, etc.

Gratitude is also key to happiness. If we do not appreciate what we already have, we cannot expect that anything else will fulfill us. Wise Socrates said, “He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

I am filled with gratitude whenever I read history and think of all of the advancements of Western civilization. It marvels me that with a one-second internet search, I can have access to all of the information of thousands of years worth of science, philosophy and literature. It amazes me that journeys that used to take months can now be made in hours. We have a lot to be thankful for, and many people sacrificed much so that our lives could be what they are today.

It is good to hope for nice things and aspire for improvement, but it is important to remember that things can always be better and they can also always be worse. Every age of life has its own joys and benefits along with its own difficulties and challenges. As much as we may wish it were otherwise, the happiest things in life often cannot be reached without struggles along the way. But that is what makes them all the more meaningful and worth celebrating.

Cicero said: “Each stage of existence has been allotted its own appropriate quality; so that the weakness of childhood, the impetuosity of youth, the seriousness of middle life, the maturity of old age — each bears some of nature’s fruit, which must be garnered in its own season.”

This stage of our life is short, and we never get it back. There are opportunities we have now that we may never have again. It is important that we enjoy these years while they last and make the most of them while we still can. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” goes an old Biblical adage.

They say a person reaches old age when they stop looking forward in life and start looking back. We will be the happiest both now and many decades later if we know that we lived life to the fullest.

Victor Gelfuso is a senior at Richfield Springs Central School. Readers can contact him at victor@gtechmarine.com and follow him on Facebook at victorgelfusospeaking.

Teen writers wanted

The Daily Star has an opening for a Teen Talk columnist. Aspiring writers in grades 9 to 11 in Otsego, Delaware, Chenango or Schoharie counties should contact Managing Editor Robert Cairns at rcairns@thedailystar.com.

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