How do we focus on taking care of ourselves when there are so many temptations in the world ready to help us do the opposite? Uhg. Life is precious. Each moment is a bright and shining gift that should be treasured, yada, yada, yada. We’ve all heard it before and it obviously hasn’t moved us. We continue to careen toward the void at ever increasing speed, unsatisfied with what we have and chasing after more–even if chasing the elusive MORE happens to be in the precise direction of our demise.
So how do we learn to appreciate what we have? Sadly, due to a trick of evolutionary genetics, for us to appreciate something, it has to be threatened or actually taken away. Don’t worry, it’s not just you–it’s all of us. The enemy is a brain that rose to the top of the food chain by wanting more, new, better, sweeter, stronger, faster…it’s what made us great. But at some point, (probably fairly early on, judging by the vast number of religions in the world) certain people learned to exploit that drive in others.
Instead of that big brain being a benefit, it’s been turned against us, driving us to want more, more, more, and never being satisfied with the now, now, now–unless now is threatened. And it has to be a pretty immediate threat to get our attention. Like, oh, let’s say for the sake of argument, CANCER. Yeah, I know. You figured that one out right away, and for good reason. I’ve been sharing an immediate threat with my one and only; the woman who has been slowly teaching me over the last hundred years or so, the importance of the now.
Don’t worry. This isn’t a sermon about grabbing life with both hands and not letting go. Let’s face it, unless it’s threatened somehow, you won’t fully appreciate it anyway. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I know the new iPad is awesome. And I heard the McRib is coming back soon too. OH! and who doesn’t want to see how HBO has changed GRR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, letting us readers smugly spit in disgust when we say “That’s not how it was in the books.”. I know I can’t wait…even if by being unable to wait it means I’m literally wishing for time to pass faster; so much for each moment being precious.
I see that I didn’t answer the question above “How do we learn to appreciate what we have?” Well, that’s super tough. It requires looking at temptation as a bad thing. I know! I know! Now it’s starting to sound like a sermon. Well, here’s where I’ll depart from the traditional “Lead us not into temptation,” sermon: Joy–if a temptation gives us joy, if the pursuing of it, the obtaining it, the dreaming of it gives us joy (not guilt, not pain, not suffering), then it might not be a bad thing. Oh yeah, it can’t harm others either, but that point is about respect for the condition of living. You aren’t respecting life (yours or anyone else’s) if you are knowingly, willingly, harming others.
That brings me to the last part of my sermon, er, uh, I mean blog post. Identifying those things that aren’t bringing you joy but you want them anyway. I won’t claim I know all the deep dark secrets of the human mind–there are far too many to know them all. And I know that there are many dysfunctions that can cause the human mind to want something that’s bad for it. But the vast majority of those things, the things that aren’t good for it, are pushed into our faces, daily, hourly.
How’s your car? Does it run? Is it safe? Yes? Then why are you drooling over something that’s shiny and new on the TV? Do you think you’ll appreciate it more? Did you appreciate your current car more when you first got it? Do you now? How long did it take for you to not appreciate it? A week? A month? Certainly not a year.
My son just bought his first brand new car, all on his own, only three or four months ago…the front seat already looks like his old boring, worn out Subaru Turbo’s front seat, piled with trash and clothes. In his defense, the old car did in fact die on him. But still, he’s already taking his new car for granted. So if you have a car that runs, works well, gets you where you need to go with little or no expensive maintenance, why do you want to give a corporation 20 or 30K (or 50 or 100K) of your money so you can experience a few weeks of “newness”…then slowly drive toward a state of apathy for that vehicle? All the while praying for time to go faster so you don’t have to wait for the next episode of Game of Thrones?
I don’t have an answer. It’s hard. I know because my brain is wired like that as well. But the one thing I’ve discovered recently, like some sort of new filter on my thoughts, is that seeking obtainable joy isn’t a bad temptation. Of course my joy is very different these days than it was even six months ago; laying in bed, snuggling for an extra 45 minutes in the morning is an indulgence that I look forward to. “More” has taken on a smaller, incremental meaning.
But maybe that’s the answer. Maybe we just have to block out the noise of everyone and everything that’s trying to tempt us with things that won’t bring us joy, exploiting our unfortunate evolutionary brain trait of wanting more, newer, better. With the confusing and chaotic noise muted, perhaps we can more easily find the moments of joy to satisfy our immutable desire for more. We can only hope.
In the mean time, don’t beat yourself up too bad–guilt has a tendency to make you want new stuff too (thus the heaping helping of guilt in so many commercials.)
S.L. Shelton is the author of an Amazon Bestselling Political Thriller/Action Espionage Series, (The Scott Wolfe Series). Follow him here on WordPress, on Twitter @SLSheltonAuthor or Facebook. His wife Diane suffers from an advanced cancer and is in aggressive treatment, consuming time, energy and resources. If you feel the desire to help, you can make a contribution to the GoFundMe that their daughter set up, or buy his books.