We’ve all heard the phrase “it can always be worse”. I don’t feel, however, that as Americans we really think about how privileged we really are. Every day I hear people who are deeply, deeply unhappy with what they can’t have. Very few people seem to take the time to be thankful for what they do have. One of my personal development epiphanies occurred in my teens. It was the realization that Americans are not alone in the world, despite the fact that we use up more than our fair share of the world’s resources.
That realization came with a deeper knowledge of how others in the world live and how everything in this life truly boils down to a matter of perspective. We complain (myself included) about the high price of groceries while there are millions of people in this world who lack access to balance nutrition. Our supermarkets would likely astound them. And what do we do with this abundance of food? We overeat. We are now the most obese country on the planet.
We buy bottled water despite having one of the most advanced water treatment and delivery systems in the world. We have access to fresh water every minute of every day. Turn on the faucet and there it is. No trekking to a river that people bathe and pollute with waste to obtain drinking water.
We drive everywhere. Walking is now relegated to “exercise”. Ditto for Biking. For the majority of us, walking or biking is a luxury of time as opposed to an effective means of transportation.
Arguments about our health care system aside, as imbalanced as access may be, we all have access to at least emergency care. If we are in an accident or injured we can be assured that, even if we go bankrupt from the emergency room bill, there’s a good chance we’ll survive. Because of our access to food and clean water something as simple as a cut on our foot isn’t likely to kill us. For millions of people an infected cut is a serious illness. Here we can wash it in clean water, slather on some antibacterial ointment and put a bandage on it. We have easy access to basic medical supplies.
Whether you’re living in a mansion, a studio apartment, your parent’s basement, or something in between, you have a roof over your head. Access to quality shelter is something I see people take for granted every day. Their bathroom is ugly. Their back yard isn’t big enough. They don’t have enough closet space or their kids have to share a bedroom. Do us all a favor and learn to tell yourself “I don’t like my bathroom, but I’m thankful I have one!”.
The other day I was frustrated by a slow draining bathroom sink. A bottle of Drano later and I was thankful to have a sink that actually drains again. Then I thought, “Hell, I should be thankful to have a sink. And plumbing… and running water… and a home to contain it all.” And I was.
Money is a big complaint I hear all the time. It used to be something I complained about. There never seems to be enough money. I learned something though. You can’t take it with you. You can’t take anything you buy with you, really. Yes, money provides for the roof over our heads, the running water in our sinks, and the food in our bellies. Beyond the basic necessities, everything else is gravy. You have a computer, a cell phone, an iPad, a playstation, a tv… the list goes on and on. Check out http://bonsaimovie.com/ or google microfinance loans.
The most surprising aspect of these loans is how little money people are asking for to buy seeds, or a sewing machine, or fix the roof on their homes. Many of the ones in the Bonsai People documentary are less than I pay for my monthly cell phone bill.
If you need perspective from a cuter standpoint; check out the Babies documentary. Not only is it beautifully done, but it pulls you in. You see that babies are babies the world over. They are not born to hate. They aren’t born to be greedy about material things. They don’t use material objects or money to feel better about themselves. We are born happy and loving and curious. It is only through time and experience that our priorities shift.
If you watch, make sure you watch it a second time with a more critical eye. Compare and contrast how the babies live and grow up. It might not dawn on you that there are a few scenes where how the babies are taken care of would be persecuted here in the states. But, the perspective through which you watch the babies grow up makes it all perfectly acceptable. And it should be.
The point of all of this is not to make you feel guilty. Though, if you feel guilty it is because you’ve identified something within your own life that your mind feels you should feel guilt about.
This is merely an exercise in perspective. A gentle reminder of how good you have it. What you are unhappy over many people would be thankful for. Yes, you have the right to complain, but you also have a responsibility to acknowledge everything you’re fortunate enough to have.
Approach life with enthusiasm. Be grateful for all that you have and can be because of where you were born. Protect the rights of future generations to have a happy childhood. And try to live, if even for a few moments a day, as if you were an infant. Be happy. Be loving. Be curious about the world around you. And try to maintain perspective when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unhappy. After all, It can always be worse.