It felt a little funny not to post yesterday about what I am thankful for. I very much enjoyed my 30 day thankfulness project and the fact that, even on less than easy or “bad” days (of which there were only two), I was still able to find things for which to be thankful.
In the college essay I shared yesterday, there is a point where I discussed that the greatest obstacle to adopting a life of simplicity is desire.
Segal states that we, ourselves, are “the primary obstacle that stands in the way of a politics dictated not to expanded incomes but to expanding the opportunities for simple living” (213). Choosing voluntary simplicity requires a shift in how we think and perceive personal wants and personal needs. Simple livers often cannot, on the surface, be distinguished from those who live in poverty. Many people would not be willing to accept such a lifestyle, “don’t want to give up what [they] have” (Segal 25), and “[i]ndeed, most of [them] want even more” (Segal 25).
I was thinking quite a bit today about desire in contrast to thankfulness. I know that there are quite a few things about our lifestyle that others cannot understand or imagine adopting in their own lives. Considering giving up the car is a big one, but there is so much more. Our food choices, not having a television, cloth diapering, the size of our house, and the size of our family income (which is by choice) are all things that have been questioned by family members at one time or another. I know none of my pre-Nora friends, family, or acquaintances actually thought we’d stick with cloth diapering (save for maybe Laura). After visiting, most of my family members think it would be crazy for us to live in our current house with more than one child, though I think it could be managed just fine. It’s funny how things work. Before I lived in this house, I, too, lamented the small space and all of the things we had to sell or give away to move here. Now I walk down the street and wonder what one would do with the square-footage in most of the houses here.
It’s all relative. Since moving to Nantucket, I’ve learned a lot about how much I enjoy having time with Nora, being short distances from beaches and living mostly on my own schedule. I do still want things, don’t get me wrong, but I think I have gained a much better understanding of the difference between want and need, and I am better able to recognize the benefits of a lifestyle centered around people and experiences rather than things. Every day I don’t go out and apply for a full-time job, I am choosing lifestyle over things. I am very thankful for having become this way.
I am also thankful for all that we do have; all that we are free to choose. I think sometimes, people lose the world perspective and instead see their own life in comparison to their peers. Do I have the same things as the Browns down the street. Am I as happy in my marriage as or with my job or my kids as so-and-so from college or church or work. It’s easy to look at your life in a bubble, forgetting that relative to the majority of the world, even our woes are something many people would beg for.
I am guilty of that. I see my college and high school friends buying houses and think about how we may never own a home if we stay here. I get annoyed at the fact that I can’t go crazy at the grocery store if I want…and oh boy, do I want. Where we are financially, making due but not getting ahead, feels frustrating a lot of the time.
When you don’t see extreme situations in person, it’s easy to forget how easy we have it.
Today, I was reminded of the extremes. I saw two news stories which really resonated with me. The first was a 60 Minutes piece about children living in poverty in America. Apparently, there are more than 16 million of them, the most since 1962, and many of them are homeless; living in cars, because the shelters are full. The family featured was most certainly heartbreaking, but also amazing at the same time. I don’t know if I could find a better example of thankfulness than 15-year-old Ariel, who had an unbelievably optimistic outlook on her life. The second was a New York Times article about women’s rights and customs in Afghanistan, specifically regarding rape and, as this article details, the fact that women who report rape are often jailed and/or forced to marry their rapists. Arial is right to be optimistic and thankful for what she has. We all should be thankful in contrast to such horror.
The desire Segal describes and the consumerism that most Americans are taught to celebrate are sickening in light of such news stories and similar happenings around the world. Yet, these stories make little differences in American’s lives. We see them, we talk briefly about the atrocity of such situations, we might even donate money or food, and the best of us will volunteer our time to try to make a difference. But beyond that, the news story is quickly forgotten and we do little to change our own lives or truly reflect on how lucky we are for the things we do have, the people in our lives, and the rights and freedom in our country. We even have a government which encourages individuals to amass wealth and material goods, rather than supporting their neighbors so all can live a healthier and happier life.
When I think about why I’m not very excited about Christmas anymore, it’s because the non-religious/mainstream version of the holiday represents exactly that: striving for more and more stuff, under the delusion that with it comes happiness. I wish more people would stop and look around them to see how much they already have, and realize that happiness doesn’t come from boxes under a tree bought with borrowed money. I wish they would be willing to make concessions in their lifestyle that would benefit others as well as themselves. I wish we, as a nation, desired less and gave thanks more. And I wish that I knew how to make changes like that happen.