How to find Happy from nothing (when you’re grouchy like me)

macbook keyboard

My grandpa turned 85 this year, the first year without his wife. I’m going to die soon, he said.

He decided to buy us all early parting gifts. Some people got an unlocked iPhone 5S, and I was the recipient of a spotless new Macbook Pro.


It wasn’t the first time I’d spilled something on my keyboard — let’s admit it, a keyboard spill is a state of being, not a standalone incident.

It wasn’t the first, but it was the worst. An entire mug of just-pressed coffee slipped out of my hand, onto my brand new everything-machine, creating enough backsplash to soak some newly folded white laundry and trickle down every step of our staircase.

It’s like stubbing your toe x 1,000,000, or maybe a little like Fight Club. I’m angry and ready to unleash some satisfying blame, but I’m the only person in the room.


You have chilli-dren?

Me? Oh, no. How about you?

Me yes, only one. Three years old. Bali very expensive.

My driver looked like a more cheerful and younger Barack Obama. He smiled and apologized for the traffic.

I had been busy quietly hating my life, replaying the unbelievable sequence of calamities that made up my existence.

My New Thing from my Old Wai-Gong, most likely completely RUINED. And now this 40-minutes-turned-3-hour traffic session and a fifty dollar car ride that DIDN’T NEED TO HAPPEN.

I paused, considering this driver: planning out school uniforms, temple celebrations, maybe possibly a bike.

This drive could equal a bike, I supposed. I felt pleased at the thought, a little embarrassed that I hadn’t made the connection sooner.


A modular city - click display images to seeThe technician spoke perfect English. He took it apart in front of my eyes, revealing a complex metropolis in miniature — there’s the warehouse district, there’s the suburb, there’s the airport.

Nothing to worry, he said, but without citing evidence. He whisked up all the loose bits onto a magnetized screwdriver, slid them into a little ziploc, and took it all away.

In the end, my laptop needed a new battery and keyboard. $650 here is a month’s luxury rent, and many people’s monthly income. Stab. Twist.

Despite this, I couldn’t shake the feeling from the car ride.


— That I was able to find a driver who stayed calm and cheerful through 5 hours of traffic

— That a repair shop this far away from Apple Land solved my problem for me

— That I have $650, plus the fifty dollar bike fund contribution

— That it was my laptop and not my passport, or my person

…and finally, that I have a spare.


Privilege is a word that’s usually uttered in critique, even when it’s accurate.

Privilege can be ugly when it’s blatant.

But, privilege is most limiting when we let it become invisible, just another unacknowledged entitlement. It’s what makes us stamp our feet, narrow our gaze, and demand our due.

Entitlement doesn’t net us more stuff, it just makes us wonder why we’re not getting it.

I had felt entitled to an exemption from inconvenient disasters. People like me shouldn’t have to spend all day driving through traffic just to get my laptop fixed 3 weeks from now. Where’s the Genius bar around here? Isn’t there an app for that?

But when I stopped demanding that things go my way — the accident, the traffic, the repair cost, the slowness of other people and time when something’s gone wrong for me — things got easier. I don’t know if they really started to go my way (probably not), but I stopped having only one way that was mine.

Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement. It’s what lets us relax, and what what we feel when we finally do relax.

And luckily it’s always there, underneath every entitlement and every disappointment.


In this age of content explosion, a lot has been written about the benefits of gratitude. It’s the new omega-3.

But, I don’t need any more scientific proof about gratitude. I get it already, I just don’t always have the How.

I’m told to list the things I’m grateful for, but it can be all too easy to let negativity erase my gratitude slate, or on the flip side to draw a mindless gratitude recitation:

“I’m grateful for my family, my friends, my house…” daily on repeat.

We become numb to our own practiced list, and it stops working.

I needed a grouch-proof action plan so I could start reaping all those omega-3-gratitude benefits.

So, I created one: a simple, grouch-proof Gratitude Generator that is guaranteed to make me feel it.

The Grouch-Proof Gratitude Generator

ONE. Name 1 thing you LIKE that you can SEE with you eyes right this second. What’s the cause of what you see?

TWO. Name 1 thing you LIKE that you can HEAR with your ears right now. What’s the cause behind what you hear?

THREE. Name1 thing you LIKE that you can FEEL with your body right now. What’s the cause of this feeling?

FOUR. What’s 1 thing you LIKE that happened in the past 24 hours, and its cause:

FIVE. What’s 1 thing you LIKE that’s still to come in the next 24 hours, and its cause:

The causes behind everything you LIKE — and there are always things to like, even in ugly moments — are all the reasons you have for gratitude right now, no changes required.

Bonus: Do the worksheet together with a friend, family, loved one.

SUPER Bonus: do this every day before going to sleep or while waiting for something.

The incredible view from my work desk at home -- click display images to view!I personally like nature. Being surrounded by elements of the natural world is something that gives me gratitude every day in different ways, and this always shows up on my Gratitude Generator.
Over time, I can see the longer arc of values in my life, and how effectively I’m organizing my time around the things that make my life good.

You don’t have to like the same things I do, but you’ll start to see trends too.

The things that inspire gratitude aren’t coming to you — they’re already with you.

Let the right-now life around you be your inspiration for gratitude.

Once you’ve tried out the Gratitude Generator — hit reply and let me know, how did it work for you?

Till next time,

2 Comments on “How to find Happy from nothing (when you’re grouchy like me)”

  1. Its funny how things can be going so well in our lives but we’re still so grouchy about the situation for no reason.

    Its also funny how quickly a terrible day can turn into a good day in a matter of seconds

  2. Great article! I find myself often times very desensitize and take things for granted. It’s a good method to pull us back to what’s important and to live in the moment.

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