There’s a lot of writing in self-improvement about how we take things for granted and are caught on the never ending hamster wheel of wanting more.
You have the common advice of being grateful for what you have – Please take stock of the fact that you can read, have the use of your eyes, have enough money to afford internet and so on. Many people don’t have these luxuries.
There’s also a technique in stoicism to fight hedonic adaptation – when humans want something so bad and then get used to it, just assuming it will always be there and take it for granted. The idea is to voluntarily give up said thing (for example, extra layers of clothes in cold weather) to see how fortunate you are for having these things. It will make you become more grateful.
Gratitude and the stoic techniques are definitely useful. Learning the best way to approach positive thinking definitely has it’s place too. But in all honesty, I don’t think ANYTHING compares to having something forcefully taken away from you permanently or for a short period of time. It is only when you get that thing back or in the mourning period of loss where you can truly realize what you had.
Let me explain.
Taking My Health For Granted With A Stomach Infection
Over the past week I had a very bad stomach infection. For 2 days I couldn’t walk anywhere except the path between my bed and the toilet. I was nauseous, exhausted, and dehydrated. I’m also in Vietnam so I had no family except across the world to help me. I felt isolated, alone, and scared. Thankfully, I did have friends and a girl I was dating to help me, but still, it was not fun.
Then after not sleeping night after night, I decided to get myself to a clinic. Nobody could help me with this and I had to get myself into a taxi to get there early in the morning.
Then there was dealing with the side effects of drugs I was allergic to, becoming even MORE nauseous to the point of praying that ginger candies could offset the nauseous feelings and distracting myself with movies.
The worst part? This infection could come back. And I have to deal with the anxiety of that. No control whatsoever except hoping a new strict diet and probiotics will help.
There’s a lot here, but one thing I realized is how much I definitely take my health for granted. Sure, there are days I consider what life would be like if I couldn’t see or couldn’t walk, seeing many people like that here in Saigon.
But when you can’t work or do what you love.
When you can barely eat a few crackers a day.
When you have to stay inside all day because being outside is too much.
When you’re hooked up to an IV because you’re so dehydrated…
Health starts to seem a lot more important.
And I was still able to have basic function. It was hard, but I could walk around a bit. I was not forcefully confined to my hotel room. I think about patients in cancer wards, those that need life support machines beside them 24/7, and think, “What do I have to complain about? My God, I’m so lucky. Fuck wasting time doing stuff that isn’t aligned with what I want to do in life.”
What Do You Take For Granted? Maybe it’s not your health. Maybe it’s your freedom that you take for granted.
Maybe you can read whatever you want compared to it being filtered by the government. Maybe you can travel wherever you want with your passport and VISA. Maybe you have UNLIMITED choices in careers if you put your mind to it.
And maybe, you take your relationships for granted. Sure, you try to imagine what life would be like without a family or your significant other, and that might help. But I don’t think anything can truly prepare you for the eventual loss of them, either in death or in a break up.
What about if you had no friends to rely on? Nobody to talk to? How about that stark isolation and feeling of nobody being able to understand, connect, or empathize with you?
I don’t think even having someone “help you” imagine how things would be like without these items, e.g. being held accountable for not using your legs one day, compares to life saying, “I’m taking X away, and you might never get it back”.
I honestly don’t know how you or I can deal with these things. Because as much as there are beliefs and grateful thoughts we can take such as:
“I am exactly where I need to be right now”,
“At least I still can X, Y, and Z”,
And also trying to be optimistic… some things we just can’t control and it sucks.
I guess the only thing you can do, other than gratitude and practicing discomfort, is expecting that sometimes you will have these unfortunate events happen. Sometimes life does throw curve balls. And no matter what, you will be angry, frustrated, upset, sad, and anxious for a while. You will think things are unfair.
But depending on how severe something is, you will gain a new appreciation for something you probably took for granted. You’ll reflect on where you’re going in life, chart a course for improvement, and you’ll be better for it.
And, if you really do lose something you can never get back, you will eventually accept the situation. You will fight at first, but you will come to terms with reality. You have to. It might take days, months, or years… but you will eventually have to come to terms with life.
I’ve been saying that I need to put more of a focus on my health for a long time. Growing up, I wasn’t really super involved in sports and so on. But then I started going to the gym and trying to watch my diet. Now, I’m even more motivated to get physical activity every day (or multiple times a day), keep a clean diet, and also look after my mental stress (the body-mind connection).
Everyday I learn more and get better at all of that.
Only Life Experience And Loss Make You Truly Appreciate What You Have
I think no matter how zen you become, no matter how much gratitude you practice, no matter how uncomfortable you make yourself… nothing makes you appreciate what you have other than pure life experience. You remember you took X for granted before, so you do your best not to do so in the future, constantly reminding yourself about how it felt before to not have said thing.
You learn to deal with the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with the future. I think we will always falter a bit, because with life moving so fast and needing to do so much it’s hard to remember and think about when we couldn’t work, type, get up, had no friends, had nobody to date, were isolated from our family, had no means of communication, had no money…
But being able to remember these things in the back of your head from time to time will keep you from taking too much for granted.
Just expect that until life forcefully take things from you, you won’t be prepared or understand the loss and pain you will feel from losing items… and that eventually it will happen.
You will lose some portion of your health.
You will lose people you love.
And you will lose possessions.
…You will just get better at handling these bumps and bruises in life, and become and stronger person for it. You will do your best to enjoy what you have now, and also have your body and mind in a state to keep these things as long as you can. You will also take these things less for granted because sub-consciously you’ll remember…
God, when I didn’t have that… I felt miserable.
And in having those things, you’ll feel great joy.