Mother and child in IndiaFive years ago at this time I was in Rishikesh, India. I spent most of December there, almost until Christmas, visiting a swami who was a good friend to the Pay It Forward Foundation, a group that I founded, based on my novel of the same name.

One day I was walking down the street in Sivanandanagar and snapped a photo of a woman holding her sleeping infant girl on her shoulder. The woman turned and asked, in broken English, if I would give her a rupee so she could buy a chapatti for her daughter. She wasn't begging. I'd traveled enough to know the score on this type of transaction. It was a fair trade: She was giving me the photo opportunity in return for a ridiculously small fortune (about 2 cents). It occurred to me that, had I refused, quite possibly her daughter might not have eaten that day.

She was one of the richer people I met on the street during my stay in India. She probably didn't have to sleep on the stone steps by the Ganges river, wrapped only in a thin blanket. She had not been forcibly handicapped to enrich her begging opportunities.

Putting Things in Perspective

I returned to the U.S. with a new, deeper understanding of what it means to be poor. I realized that the version of poverty held by most Americans is an ideal for comfortable wealth in many Third World nations.

I think a lot of us, myself included, could easily slip into feeling sorry for ourselves this holiday season, because we're not feeling as financially secure as we have in past seasons. (In case you've missed my earlier posts, the publishing industry is not at the top of its game, to phrase it as charitably as possible.) And I'm not suggesting we don't have a right to those feelings, but rather that a good trip to India might put things in a whole new perspective.

You don't literally have to go to India. All you really need to do is spend a minute imagining an icy Himalayan wind whistling down from the foothills in the December morning, cutting right through your threadbare blanket. Then look around your life and find something to feel grateful for. It shouldn't be hard.

Change a Life for Capacuccino Money

I currently sponsor a Rwandan woman, a war survivor, through Women for Women International. With my sponsorship, she can attend a special year-long training program where she'll be taught her rights, learn a trade (or how to start a small business), graduate and begin life all over again. The cost of her transformation is $27 a month for 12 months.

Let's be honest. How many of us spend more on cappuccinos?

When a person or a country has enjoyed great financial prosperity and then watched much of that bounty swept away, we are left with two choices: We can focus on what has departed, or we can focus on what remains.

I find it an interesting quirk of human nature that money doesn't alleviate financial insecurity. Have you noticed that? You'd think it would, but we must know in our innermost selves that anything gained can be lost. In my experience, no amount of money can fix that basic insecurity, and it seems like the more we have, the more we fear how much we have to lose. Also, the more we have, the more we focus on having.

And why, when things are going fairly well, do we so often we find ourselves worried about petty concerns, forgetting what's important?

"I'm So Lucky"


When I forget what's important, I try learn from the guy on the news, standing in front of the chimney of what used to be his home (before the fire, the hurricane, the bombing, the earthquake, the tornado). When they stick a microphone in that guy's face, he tends to say, "I'm so lucky, because my family is okay." This is a man who's just relearned what's important.

I have a new daily habit for staying on track. Every day I post 140 characters or less onto my Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn account with the hashtag #DailyGratitude.

Why do I do this online? Why isn't it enough to just know inside myself what I'm grateful for?

I've tried that, and it works fine for a little while. Then life intervenes, and I forget. And then that odd quirk of human nature takes over, and I go back to focusing on some small thing I think is going wrong, or, more likely, something that might go wrong somewhere down the road. Then again, it might not. Usually it doesn't, but that doesn't seem to stop me from focusing on it.

Gratitude is easy to misplace.

Grateful for My Hands

But once people start telling you they love your "Daily Gratitudes," you're stuck. You're committed. Which is exactly where I want to be. Some days I note blessings as simple as hearing the surf crash as I lie in bed, or a warm fire in the wood stove on a cold morning. It's not what you ultimately find that's important. It's looking for it that makes the difference.

One day it was a full blog-post tribute to a Rwandan man who became an artist after losing both hands in a rebel attack. I'd heard him speak at the Rotary in a nearby town. That day I was grateful for my hands.

One day it was the birds who sang a chorus outside my window at sunrise. And I didn't even know if they sang every day. Because I'd never thought to listen.

So much of our experience is shaped by where we place our attention. This holiday season I'll give gifts that remind me how fortunate I am. If I give a goat or a flock of chicks to a hungry family though Heifer International, in honor of a loved one, I'll feel grateful that every day of my life I've had enough to eat. And so will my loved one.

The beauty of the holiday season (if done in the spirit intended) is that it invites us to focus on what we have, not on what we feel we should have, what we've lost or what we are afraid of losing. Of course, it's up to us to accept the invitation. Most of us will wake up to presents and sit down to a feast, even in these economically challenging times.

Hopefully we will realize how fortunate we are, even at the very bottom end of our prosperity.


Catherine Ryan HydeCatherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 16 published and forthcoming books, including the novelsJumpstart the World, Love in the Present Tense, Becoming Cloe, and Pay It Forward, which was translated into 23 languages and chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list. Read her blog on Red Room.


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jaxtatee

let each of us do one random act of kindness over the next few days.

December 15 2010 at 12:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ann

Poverty in America is considered "comfortability" in Third World countries.......HELLO......let's hope that America is NEVER going to be on par with India, Bangladesh, etc......comparisons should be with the TOP/ NOT the BOTTOM!!!

December 13 2010 at 7:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ann's comment
jaxtatee

H E L L O .... Seriously? Do you Really believe this? What about compassion for a fellow human being? Are you guys calling yourselves Christians? I'm shocked at what I am reading from my fellow privileged Americans.

December 15 2010 at 12:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
wurkinman1

I always try to teach my kids to be happy for what they have..and not mad about what they dont get...i am old school and believe you want it you earn it..they think they have nothing,but compared to some as mentioned in the article..they have everything...it puts things in perspective...be thankful for what you have , because there is always someone out there who has less...

December 13 2010 at 12:01 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Darryl Ehlers

This was a very good writting by the author of reality and I was drawn in because I am of the old school. I will help those who help themselves. A honorable person will not ask for help, but you will sense it.Are they the child of Jesus, or they may be Jesus himself. America has a lot of drones with a hand out that offers nothing in return Thanks darryl

December 12 2010 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Diane

Thank you Catherine.

December 12 2010 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Diane's comment
jaxtatee

yes, thank you Catherine for reminding us how blessed we are. why can't people be comfortable "paying it forward" or passing it on? The feelings I get from helping someone, even if it's just to give some time for a while, some conversation, some leftovers I feel like they helped me far more than I helped them. I'm working on humility this season. Feels good.

God Bless us all .... No exceptions.

December 15 2010 at 12:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
marhee9

They talked about this at donsmithshow.com today. That is the best conservative site on the internet.

December 12 2010 at 8:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
vrd071265

I know that the india is lacking behind to help the poor people. Nothing wrong with the governement policy. It is the population is a big problem. She should not have a baby at the first place, "when she can not afford it?" She has a choice to live in the woman shelter or call it Ashram. It is the corruption in the soiciety made the poor people injustice. It is the illeatrcy Killing the Indian People. If you want to donate than donate for education. India very few people know the laws and policy.

December 12 2010 at 10:41 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to vrd071265's comment
jaxtatee

She should not have a baby at the first place, "when she can not afford it?" Are you for REAL???? She has a choice to live in the woman shelter or call it Ashram.

It is the corruption in the soiciety made the poor people injustice. It is the illeatrcy Killing the Indian People. If you want to donate than donate for education. India very few people know the laws and policy. a comment.. What does this even mean? before you make statements like this maybe examine your own education (lack of) women need to help each other or at least not criticize. Here: illeatrcy is illiteracy and sociciety is spelled society. They need food before they can ever think about a book. Go help someone today. Sounds like you have a lot you could share.

December 15 2010 at 12:10 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
bfpowersjr

I have briefly visited Japan and China, but not India. But, like everyone else, I have watched movies that depict the situation you write about. I have not read recently about their former(?) attempts to limit their birth rate. Perhaps you could enlighten us. Some Economic Darwinists would say "let them eat cake", but I continue to believe the problem is that their population is still just too large.

December 12 2010 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Miss Lisa Troup

OR the POOR IN KINGSTON NY!!!!.....Try living off $687 for 2 people(I AM DISABLED),and a JUDGES son for an EX who bribed another JUDGE to take away $200 a Month CHILD SUPPORT ,so he can pay for a Lincoln RENTAL...LOL!!!..If I drop a half of a friggin BAGEL it ruins my DAY!!!!..........O:(o:9

December 12 2010 at 10:05 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
mad127d

Ms Hyde, There are plenty of people STARVING here in America. Try visiting Appalachia.

December 12 2010 at 9:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply