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Kirby: Contentment about more than being better off than others
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I am one of the biggest complainers I know. I'll whine about anything perceived as unjust, unfair and even — when I'm in a really bad mood — completely unrealistic.

All I need to set me off is a small degree of annoyance and an audience. My favorite audience is me. When I'm resenting life, no one truly understands me quite like myself.

Over the years, I have complained at length about not looking like a movie star, poor eyesight, tone deafness, horrible coordination and being generally deprived of the finer things in life.

I blame all this on other people. Why did God put so many really dumb ones in my way? Fair question. It can't be my fault. But it has to be somebody's. Who better than someone else?

Note: I am not alone in this belief. Judging from the state of the world, most people think exactly the same way.

When I get like this, it takes a slap to bring me out of it. Two weeks ago, I got that slap from a little girl.

I was sitting in church minding my own business — always a good policy when it comes to religion — when I got mugged.

Three-year-old Sophie Green spotted me. In the middle of a hymn, she slipped out of her seat, crept over to my briefcase, undid the clasps, reached in and stole candy I was saving for an emergency.

I needed this candy. Short of opium or being vigorously punched unconscious, candy is about the only distraction that keeps me from thinking about what's coming from the pulpit.

Sophie escaped, loot firmly grasped. Perhaps I should have been vexed by her brazenness, but I was more astounded by her ability. She committed the entire crime with just her toes.

Sophie doesn't have any arms. Her Chinese parents abandoned her and she was raised in an orphanage. Eighteen months ago, Jeremy and Christianne Green adopted her.

Since then, Sophie has set about finding ways around the inconvenience of no arms. She's blossomed into a happy kid by relying on what she has rather than focusing on what she doesn't.

Why can't I do that?

I spend most of my time complaining about what I don't have and trying to get things I don't really need. I make myself intolerable even to myself.

I started thinking how fortunate I was to have arms, but then I realized this was simply comparing myself to someone "less fortunate." Real contentment isn't about being better off than someone else.

I'm not very smart, but I understand the lack of arms might test Sophie's happy spirit one day if she wants to get a driver license, go to the prom or do a billion other things the rest of us take for granted.

The point is that she was happy and I wasn't. And that really annoyed me. It was just one more thing for me to complain about.

Watching Sophie unwrap a Starburst with just her toes, I suddenly realized the reason I carped so much was because I could.

It's true. Nothing will make a guy unhappier faster than forgetting he doesn't really have anything to be unhappy about. It was such a valuable lesson that I ditched the rest of church and went home.

Sophie's Law: If you aren't in agonizing pain and you're surrounded by people who love you, every day is a good day.

A little candy doesn't hurt, either.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/notpatbagley.

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