Sometimes gratitude and appreciation come naturally from our experiences and the privileges in our lives, but many times, gratitude and appreciation are a choice. In my life, I have had practice with both.
When I was younger, living in my orphanage in Guizhou, China, I wore the same clothes for a week. I could only change clothes every Monday and shower every other Friday. I was lucky if I could find matching shoes that fit. I never had money in my pockets; I often stole from street shops and disabled or old people. I was very thankful to wake up and not be sick, to get to go to school, to be chosen to clean classrooms because that meant I was a good leader and an outstanding student. It may seem that these things are not that wonderful, but they were. I was happy with all that I had and all that I was given. I didn’t understand how little I had because for me it was enough.
When I was told that I would be adopted by an America couple I became very excited! I imagined having all the food, toys, and clothing that I wanted. I imagined my parents looking like the ones on T.V. The excitement vanished when I began saying goodbye to my friends and nannies. I didn’t care about having the rich Americans as my parents anymore, I just wanted to stay.
I came to the US toward the end of 2004 at nine years old. I was extremely sad and scared and devastated to be leaving my orphanage. I was frightened by my new parents, my new home and surroundings. I actually don’t remember the first couple years I was here in the US because I was so traumatized. My parents always ask me “Oh, do you remember when you did this?” Or “Remember this person?” And I would always look at them confused because I had no clue what they were talking about!
I had a hard time adjusting to my new life. I was angry at my parents, for taking me away, for being old, for trying to be my parents. But as I grew I learned to see and appreciate what they’ve been doing for me all this time. They have tried so hard to give me a good life. I was so full of anger that I couldn’t see their kindness, compassion, and love towards me. Now I can’t seem to be grateful enough for what they do for me. To this day, I do not think I can repay them or give them enough respect for their endless efforts to make me happy.
When I returned to China this past summer on a volunteer trip, I was reminded of how fortunate I am and how good my life truly is. Typically, kids in orphanages rarely get a chance to have something they rightfully own, to call “theirs.” I watched the kids in the orphanage take my camera and snap about a dozen photos of themselves just so they could see what they looked like because mirrors are nonexistent in the orphanages. I heard them compliment my friends and me on our physical beauty, mostly because we were more than just skin and bones. It would be easy to assume that these kids have little to appreciate or to be thankful for. But playing with the kids and seeing them interact was incredible. They were so easy to please and were extremely happy to have attention and have someone take an interest in them.
Being in the presence of such joyful appreciation quickly gave me a whole new perspective, showing me the value of everything that I have. I learned to be even more grateful for all the digital devices, clothing, food, and items available to me. I learned to be happy with what I have and not to complain about what I don’t have. The kids at the orphanages this summer rejoiced and said thank you for all that we had given them: toys, candies, and companionship. They focused on appreciating what they had and they never begged for more.
Those children gave me a gift, and now I find myself feeling thankful for having parents and friends who I know have got my back and care about me. I find myself more aware and more appreciative of all the things that I have and can call “mine.” I understand now that more things and more people in my life are not the key to happiness. Rather, happiness is found in the perspective that you hold and the willingness you have to enjoy the gifts that life has for you, regardless of their size or form.
The kids at the orphanages we visited in China were filled with delight and covered in smiles, and they had nothing close to what all of us have. I am most thankful for the lifestyle I have been given, one that nourishes my mental, physical, and emotional health, but most of all, I am thankful for the freedom to choose gratitude and appreciation regardless of what life chooses to give me.