This morning it began at 4:13.

A skull-piercing chirp followed by the voice of a tiny bionic woman insisting, “FI-er!” “FI-er!”

These darn smoke detectors have been pulling this prank all week. It’s like having a newborn again, although my last newborn is now 17 and conveniently sleeps while I frantically race around to find the instigator with the flashing red light. Then it’s drag over a chair, climb up and try to disarm the little menace.

A woman reaching above her head to check the smoke detector

As I was perched on a stepstool, frantically trying to wedge the batteries out (with a corkscrew, of all things) my three dogs barking their heads off, I had a rare moment of clarity and thought…

“I hate these stupid things.”

Then, “I’m pretty darn fortunate to have this problem.” 

This leads me to the theme of this post: Gratitude.  (‘Tis the season, right?)

A K2D colleague of mine recently shared a Ted Talk by A.J. Jacobs on gratitude. He said, “noticing the little details in life that we typically take for granted is the first step in developing a practice of gratitude.” The problem is that so much of our lives run on auto-piloted expectations which, on the one hand, is awesome because that allows us to accomplish a lot and with great efficiency but on the other hand, those expectations can cause us to lose sight of the little details — gifts really — for which we owe much gratitude.

“Noticing the little details in life that we typically take for granted is the first step in developing a practice of gratitude”

Ironically, clues that point toward these gifts can be found in life’s little headaches — not exactly what we think of as gifts. For most of us, little annoyances, better known in these parts as “first world problems” are places where we can dig deeper and find the little things for which we can all be grateful.

This all got me thinking of some other headaches where we might find gratitude:

  1. The donors who complain but are the ones who care enough to give feedback and help us be better fundraisers
  2. The clients who require four rounds of rewrites but who trust us with their incredible programs
  3. The coffee maker that just can’t seem to percolate fast enough
  4. The lettershop that misses your mail date by a day but manages, as the last link in the chain, to pull off miracles with every other campaign
  5. The USPS is reliably unreliable but enables us to raise millions for our causes
  6. The pick-up lunch order that isn’t ready when we arrive
  7. The Acela that runs late but gives us a few more quiet moments with our books, meeting prep, or naps

When little things go wrong is when we realize just how much help we have every moment of every day. We rely on so many other people, products, and services to make our modern lives run smoothly!

It’s humbling to think about it. 

But the point is not to shame or make wrong but merely a reminder to slow down, smile, and say, “thank you” for the little things. When you do, you’ll find the little things are everything.