When something tragic occurs in our lives or our loved ones’ lives or on our local news channels, people often hear the over-exhausted phrase – “It really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?” Am I right? It’s like we’re automatically programmed to think that instantly, until half an hour later it wears off and we’re still stressing about that leak coming from the dishwasher, or the two pounds of weight we’ve recently gained and that embarrassing thing we did/said on Saturday night 10 tequila shots in.
It seems to me that we’re all constantly and acutely aware of some of our priorities being trivial in the grand scheme of things, joking about our #firstworldproblems, yet nothing changes. We continue to worry incesantly over these things until we’ve lost sight of what aspects of life really deserve our time and thoughts.
Having recently been lucky enough to go to Thailand, this truly struck me more than ever. We visited a local village where people appeared to have very little (looking through the eyes of a Westerner).
Yes, for us the absence of snazzy cars and swanky shops, their poorly constructed river huts and lack of flat screen TVs may not seem all that desirable…yet, I felt no sense of ingratitude from any one. There was no self-pity in their eyes, nor was their unhappiness in their hearts. I know, you’re probably thinking- ah how much can you really tell from the way they acted and behaved towards you? You never really know how people feel deep down – You might well be right, but I’d like to think not. They simply couldn’t do enough for us. Even when a storm hit, the concern was not for themselves and their own stalls in the market, but with making sure that my mum and I had sufficient shelter from the wind and rain. One lifeguard along the coast even started knocking coconuts down from a tree, cutting into them and offering them round the circle of tourists and locals huddled in the small shelter we’d all been invited into. He offered a small Japanese boy some food and regardless of any language barrier, we spent a good 45 minutes laughing and communicating with each other. It was genuinely one of the most special moments of the time we spent there. These people did not have much in terms of material goods and wealth, yet their priorities were, in my opinion, much richer than the Western world’s.
I’ve come back and still can’t quite get over the humility of the vast majority of people I conversed with and how content they were. I feel like the Western world is so regularly painted as this ‘land of opportunity’, which don’t get me wrong, I believe it is and feel very lucky to live here. However, I think it’d be incredibly foolish and pig-headed of us to not realise that this thing we are so proud of is also causing many of us to lose sight of other things that matter. In our version of life, it is very easy I suppose, for someone to forget about their family for a short period of time as they slave away at working towards the possibility of a new promotion, in our social-media frenzy we can slip quite simply into obsessing over our image as it appears on other peoples’ screens, rather than work on the person we are in reality…..and we all do it, in one way or another. We feel that by pursuing these aspects of life we’ll somehow be happier people than we are in the present. We’re never content, there’s always something more that would make our lives that little bit better. I mean, I’m sure the people I met in Thailand lose sight sometimes too, but in the short time I stayed there, I finally learned the meaning of a phrase that my parents have had hung up in the kitchen at home on a decorative placard since I was a baby –
‘Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you already have.’