Placing your privilege in context and happiness

Posted by Jonathan Weyermann on January 23, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Gratitiude2

Even the poorest among us reading this should feel a great deal of gratitude in our lives.  We have access to the Internet,  and are capable of understanding the language required to read most of it. That alone puts us in a privileged fraction of the world's population. Most of us don't struggle due to lack of food, lack of medicine or lack of shelter, allowing us to focus on higher needs such as self-actualization.  While we don't have everything,  and we do have really issues,  which may be financial, emotional,  or psychological, most of us live in a place of relative political stability, physical safety and many modern comforts. 

By merely existing and experiencing our lives we should feel lucky. Intelligent life doesn't exist everwhere we look, and a lot of variables need to overlap for it to happen. While may exist in may places in the universe, we've still not discovered it outside of our own species. Even that any of us exist at all, given the chain of copulations required to bring us here, seems to be a lucky accident we should appreciate daily. 

We are also in a time in history when most sicknesses can be cured or have been cured,  where infant mortality is at record lows, and where we no longer die due to now trivialized diseases. We have more opportunities,  more technology,  more automation, and an easier life than at any other time in human history. There is less violence, less discrimination on the basis of genders, sexual orientation, or by most other metrics. 

Technology has made the world a smaller place, with instantaneous communication across the globe, and transportation that can get us places faster than ever before, allowing us to live and work further away. Every part of the world is potentially accessible to us, in that if we wanted to we could easily go there to visit and return within the week. 

Yet despite all of this, people in the West seem more unhappy than ever before. We compare ourselves to others and become jealous. The lives of the wealthy are on display,  and no matter how successful you are, there is always someone wealthier, more attractive, or happier than you are. We know more about the lives of others than we ever have, due to Facebook and other social media where other like to display the happiest moments in their lives. 

We need to view our lives in the context of history and the rest of the world to really appreciate how good we have it. Intelligent life seems to be rare in the history of the galaxy and even in the history of this planet. How can we not feel anything but gratitude to be alive in this small moment in history, to be intelligent beings capable of reason and thought, to live in a society where there is freedom of speech, democracy, opportunities to learn, grow and be recognized and valued? 

I'm not saying we should stop striving to improve society. You may still live in a society with injustice, unfairness and poverty. Discontent is after all a powerful catalyst for improvement. Nevertheless, perspective of how far we have come as a species, and of how rare and precious life is should be enough for you to experience great gratitude. Beyond that, you must have many things to be grateful for such as friends, family, health, or gainful employment.

Gratitude for this present moment, regardless of where you are at is critical for your happiness, mental well-being, and long-term motivation.