From the December 2012 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

November 21, 2012

Do You Have What You Need?

One of many moving stories of Hurricane Sandy involved a family in an affluent area of New York awakened by the rush of water into their home.

As the floodwaters rose, the father led his family up to their attic, whence they were rescued several hours later. A neighbor, who saw the father the next day carrying what few belongings he was able to salvage in a gym bag, asked him how he was doing. The fellow, who had just lost his house to Sandy, smiled and said “Thank God. Everything is great!” Seeing the neighbor’s jaw drop, he quickly added “I have my wife and kids. That’s all I need.”

Sandy destroyed this man’s home, his possessions and his net worth, but it could not defeat his spirit. Indeed, it brought out his greatness. Let’s face it—losses can be psychologically devastating. Behavioral finance research has shown that people experience the pain of loss with something like two and a half times the intensity of the joy of gain. Indeed, there are people who spend their lives wallowing in misery over some past loss—the deal that fell apart, the cushy gig that seemingly slipped away, the relationship that just didn’t work out. 

And while many are stuck in the past, there are probably just as many who fantasize about a future that will likely never occur. If only I had this job, this relationship, or this whatever … I’d be happy.

But the future cannot be acquired any more than the past recovered. The only reality is in the present, where an unfalsifiable accounting of your true spiritual and material resources resides. Troubled by your past? Then build yourself up—starting from those resources. Have a vision for a certain kind of future? Then build that future, realistically, using those resources at your disposal. 

It is an intrinsic part of our natures, and a necessary one too, to want things. Without powerful material drives, we’d never build, create or sustain anything. But it takes greatness to match your wants to your needs, as this storm-tossed man did.

Hurricane Sandy confronted a large number of Americans with losses of things they might have taken for granted—like power, running water, a clean, safe home, and perhaps even their loved ones.  How many people turn on a light switch, or bite into a fresh fruit, and express gratitude for that small miracle? 

In Sandy’s wake, and with the knowledge that life will inevitably bring fresh disturbances to our peace, we’d all do well to renew our appreciation for our own bountiful inventory of personal resources, which is probably greater than we might at first think. As Americans bathe in the glow of Chanukah and Christmas lights soon upon us, can we express our gratitude for having what we need?

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