You know the lyrics, “You can’t always get what you want.” And sure you know you’re supposed to be happy with getting “what you need”. But what exactly is that? And how many of us actually take the time to think about it and be thankful? Join me in picking “what you need” apart and appreciating what we almost always take for granted.
- Sleep. Doctors now say that sleep deprivation can be just as fatal as starvation. As an off-and-on insomniac I can tell you it absolutely affects your psyche as well as your physical health. We all have tough nights due to stress, a child, or other factors. Yet we never take a minute to appreciate the good nights. Take a moment to smile to yourself and be grateful when you get some good ol’ rest.
- Shelter. Don’t roll your eyes. Think about how many people lose their homes each year due to natural disasters. Be thankful that you escape the elements when you step inside your work or home. Think about families in war-torn regions. Not everyone who is affected by war is active in politics or interested in violence. If a riot breaks out in your town and Main St. starts to burn, it wouldn’t be your fault anymore than it is theirs. Be thankful that we have (relative) peace. Think about the homeless men, women, and children in the USA. These are people suffering from mental illness or stuck in a cycle of chronic poverty. Homeless shelters have limited space and can actually be unsafe. Be thankful that you go to sleep knowing and trusting whoever is nearby. You may have a small, plain, or crowded living space. Appreciate that it is yours and it shelters you.
- Socializing. Humans are social animals. It is in our nature to seek relationships with others and to desire fitting in with others. Even introverts need occasional socialization to keep their wits about them. We harshly judge others when they do not meet our social expectations, whether it’s while driving, in a class, on a date, or at the workplace. Instead let’s try to be grateful that we have spaces to share and a variety of personalities to interact with. Easier said than done, but give it a shot. And in the meantime, don’t forget to tell your loved ones how amazing they are.
- Food. Everybody loves food. And in the USA we have a vast variety to choose from. You can have almost anything, whether it’s local or not, in season or not. You can have a mango at breakfast, sushi for lunch, and BBQ for dinner. I shouldn’t imply that we can all afford whatever we want, but chances are you have access to fresh food, healthy food, junk food, and so much more. Consider communities where drought or blight ruins a harvest and wipes out an entire food source. Think about the majority of cultures that have food staples they eat every day without variation. Most of us think the worst hassle of grocery shopping is waiting in line but do you know where your nearest food deserts are? Those are areas of your town where people living in poverty cannot afford to eat fresh food. For example, here in DC there are neighborhoods where the only food in walking distance is whatever they have at 7-11. Why not just take the metro or bus then? Because it’s expensive!
- Water. Or rather: pure, filtered, flavored, or otherwise bottled-for-convenience drinkable water. Water fountains in most public places. Bathrooms with plumbing. Showers. Those refrigerator faucets. Water for your pets and plants. Water for washing your hands. Ice for your drink. It is unthinkable how many people live without fresh water. Be thankful for water.
- (Good enough) health. No one is in perfect health. Your incredibly successful boss may have an ulcer. Your gorgeous friend could suffer from anxiety. The cool intern might have blown out his knee in collage baseball. A dear friend of mine is often praised at work for being on her feet and very active, but really she does that because it is extremely painful to sit down when her chronic back pain is flaring up. Appreciate minor health annoyances as part of being human, and challenge yourself to be grateful even when tougher issues come up. An acquaintance with cancer recently told me she’s just happy she still has her sass. Can we all be optimistic all the time? No, but force yourself to get some perspective once in a while.
- Sunlight. Most of us complain when days get shorter, especially if we go to and leave from work in darkness. In regions where the sun barely comes up in winter, some people suffer additional mental or physical illness in those dark months. But we have ways to brighten our indoor spaces and our spirits. Be thankful for each moment in the sun, and appreciate all the tiny inventions and innovations that make everyday life pretty darn convenient.
What else do we need? Oxygen? If you’re reading this, I assume you are taken care of in this regard.
Enjoy your evening and recognize the wonderful luxuries all around you!