Gratitude in Modern Life
Every once in awhile someone posts a link on Facebook that is actually useful.
Several months ago, my cousin posted a link to a clip of a guy being interviewed on the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (pre-debaucle). The title of the brief clip was called 'Everything is amazing and no one is happy', which turns out to be the theme of his humorous yet profoundly poignant monologue. Before then, I had never before seen or heard of the man, Louis CK, who my Internet research reveals, is a comedian. In my estimation, that simple speech elevates his status from comedian to something of a modern day sage.
Everything is Amazing and Nobody's Happy
You see, it is the simplicity and blatant obviousness of what he is saying which makes it so profound. We live in a world riddled with discontent and incurable frustration, for which the conventional antidotes have the paradoxical effect of exacerbating the problem they attempt to solve. The more frustrated and unhappy we become, the quicker technology leaps forward in attempt to lessen the burden, which only serves to inevitably make us even more demanding and dissatisfied with what we have right now. In a sense, this innate inability of mankind to be satisfied with the status quo is a necessary catalyst for technological advancement, as we are built to always strive to be better and do better. But this does not mean that we should be ungrateful or fail to appreciate how good things are now, as they are now. If only we were blessed with the ability to momentarily experience a life without all that we take for granted would we appreciate how amazing everything in this world truly is.
Of course this concept of gratefulness being an integral component of happiness is nothing new. We all know that happiness, at least partially, lies in the appreciation and wonder of all the small things in life. Yet I think it is a notion we rarely spend any significant amount of time contemplating let alone endorsing. I myself am guilty of committing negligence literally hundreds of times a day. Realistically, it would not be possible or feasible to walk around all day marvelling at all of life's little amazements. But if every once in awhile we each made a concerted effort to really think about how good things are these days, we would see that these 'little' things are actually not so little, and furthermore, we might just be a little happier than we were before.
Which brings me nicely to the intended crux of this hub: just what is it that we should be grateful for? Some days, in some states of mind, it is hard to think of reasons to be happy, which is why I thought I would offer an inventory of just a few things we can be thankful for in 2010.
In this day in age, we drive cars to get where we need to go. These cars are made of strong and durable substances which, for the most part, can stand up to impact much better than any vehicles in the past could. We can get where we need to go quickly, safely, and efficiently. We can transport our loved ones and our belongings with us wherever we go, and we can enjoy the ride with the added luxury of heaters and air conditioners to make it a comfortable experience. And if (God-forbid) we should get stuck in traffic, we are blessed with radio – some with hundreds of channels brought to us by sattelite – to keep us amused while we wait.
If we don't drive or own cars, we have underground trains, buses and taxis to get us where we need to go. Or bikes of motorized and manual descriptions. These days even standing has been motorized to be made quicker if you want (think Segways...). If we want to go further than our daily commute, we have coaches and passenger trains to transport us. Even more impressive, we can get in an airplane and fly all the way across this vast planet, something to be truly marvelled at according to our friend Louis CK. We don't even have to climb huge flights of stairs because we have elevators and escalators, saving our knees and backs from undue duress. Yet making a journey remains a source of stress for today's generation. Less than two centuries ago your only option would have been a horse and cart, a mode of transportation I imagine to be significantly less comfortable and convenient than any of these, yet road rage would have been non-existent. In the sub-sub-sub-zero temperatures frequent during Canadian winters, I can go somewhere and later start my car remotely with the push of a button, so that it is warm by the time the kids and I get back to the car. Even though we do brush face-to-face with the frigid air momentarily getting into the car, our discomfort is so brief as to be imperceptible. When my grandmother was in labour with my father, she walked two miles in two feet of February snow, with my then five-year-old uncle in tow, to get to her neighbours so that she could be driven thirty miles into the hospital of the nearest town. And I have the audacity to get ticked off at a red light when I am five minutes late for an appointment!
We are separated from friends and family in England by the Atlantic Ocean and most of Canada's geography, yet we can pick up the telephone and speak to them as if they were in the next room. When the kids want to see their grandparents we call them on Skype and next thing you know – we are watching each other while we talk through live video streaming on the Internet. We never have to fear missing a call thanks to call waiting, call display and answering machines. If we don't have time to talk at length but still want to get a message to someone, we can send an email or a text and the message is there instantly. We don't have to write old-fashioned letters like we used to but if we wanted to – they would get to their destinations at speeds inconceivable fifty years ago. And with things like Facebook, Twitter and the like, we can live in each other's back pockets without ever actually seeing each other if we so choose.
We don't have to grow our vegetables or hunt for meat, or milk the cows to get cream for our morning coffee. Everything we need to sustain ourselves can usually be purchased under one roof, and all we have to do is drive to the store, load up a cart and pay for it before transporting it home via our cars. In some cities, you don’t even have to do this much – you can order your groceries online and have them delivered straight to your door. On top of this, we have at our disposal a variety of foods that would not have been humanly possible not so long ago. I am pretty sure than my grandmother had never even heard of a kiwi fruit let alone tasted one, yet this fruit, grown all the way across the world in New Zealand, is a regular on my grocery list. On top of this, our food comes with labels, telling us all the good and bad stuff in it, so that we can make (or fail to make) good choices, or at least make informed ones. The fact that we even have the knowledge of what food is good and bad for us is amazing. We have within our power the ability to make healthy choices. Whether or not we do is up to us. When my grandfather was growing up on a Saskatchewan farm in the 1930's, he would eat a dozen fried eggs everyday for breakfast. He wasn’t abusing his body deliberately with cholesterol – it was the depression, and eggs were the only thing they had to eat! When I was a kid, we were allowed maybe one bottle of pop a week. These days, I probably have one glass a day. Not that I condone this as a good thing, but how lucky am I that it is even possible?
We buy our clothes, our furniture, and our gadgets – almost everything we could want or need, at convenient locations such as shopping malls where we can drive up, park in covered parking lots, and wander from shop to shop protected from the elements. We can take these items back home ourselves or have them delivered by someone else. If we don't want to leave the house, we can still consume – we can buy products over the phone, or more likely – over the Internet – clothes, electronics, books, whatever we want! This brings me nicely to the next topic...
Wide screen, flat screen televisions with HD, Blu Ray, whatever you call it, coupled by literally hundreds of satellite channels - how much more impressive can you get than that? An inanimate object sits in your living room, and with the flick of a switch it instantly broadcasts to you sounds and images combined to create entertainment opportunities whose genres span an infinite number of possibilities. And we moan that nothing is ever on. Live sports, drama, comedies, kids programming, documentaries, reality TV, movies, cooking shows, chat shows, variety shows, game shows... and nothing is ever on? We can watch the TV whenever we want and choose from hundreds of possibilities, and if the time is just not convenient for us, we can set the PVR and watch a program later. We have video games, stereos, IPods, books, exercise equipment, and some combined together (think Wii fit – how fantastic that exercise has actually been made into a video game!) - How could we EVER complain of being bored? In this day in age, boredom should not be possible. What we usually call boredom, I think, would be better described as being uninspired. My kids, whose combined ages total less than three and a half years, already have probably as many toys as I had throughout my entire childhood. Thankfully, however, they never complain of boredom. They play with each and every one of those toys, but more often than not, play with countless household items they have redefined as toys to aid them in their wildly imaginative games. They have not yet lost their wonder or appreciation of everything in their little world. My daughter entertains herself for ages with one simple item – a spray bottle I have cleaned out and filled with water. She walks around the house spraying and wiping everything, and sometimes just sits down on the floor for long periods to completely drench one or two lucky toys. I should have just an ounce of that enthusiasm when I am spraying the counters or mirrors with glass cleaner and the experience of housecleaning would be an entirely different one.
And these are just entertainment options available in the arena of your own home – think of all the excursions available to us so easily these days (movies, restaurants, bars, amusement parks, live theatre, comedy acts, music gigs, concerts, festivals, the list goes on) that would have been rare treats to most adults fifty years ago.
Self-Improvement & Personal Growth
It is no secret that the self-help industry has proliferated into a multibillion dollar industry over the last three or so decades. On the face of it, you may argue that w e are not so lucky if there is such great demand for these kinds of books and programmes, as their subscription attests to the insidious unhappiness of the modern person. I beg to differ. In 1943, Abraham Maslow – founder of Humanistic Psychology – published theory on human motivation, formulated upon a hierarchy of human needs. It proposes that humans must have certain base needs met before higher-level goals can be attained. At the bottom on the list are physiological needs (including the need for food, water, sleep, etc.), moving upwards through the domains of safety, love & belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualisation. The search for truth and enlightenment (whether through self-help books, rediscovery of Eastern philosophies, philosophical questioning or scientific research) has become the modern man’s odyssey, pointing to one unstated fact – we are not starving. If we have time to contemplate our own wishes, needs, and desires, we can’t be worrying about where our next meal is going to come from. Those higher levels needs don’t enter the equation until after the basic needs have been met. I know there are societies today that are starving.But if you are reading this hub, then you are not there, and we should all be eternally grateful for this blessing – we are able to survive!
So there it is, my short list of everything we have to be grateful for. Surely I have left countless amenities off. I publish this not as a lecture from the moral high ground, but as an offering that may aid you when you are feeling as if nothing is good in your life. Sometimes it is hard to think of things to be grateful for, and a few examples from this gratitude list may put things into context for you. I challenge you to start your own gratitude list. If you get stuck, start examining even the minute aspects of your daily life, and you will find a plethora of things to marvel at. See how far the rabbit hole goes – my own personal list so far holds 80 items (some big, but mostly small) – and I intend not to stop my active search until I have reached 1000!