We all know what it’s like to appreciate a rare event–a fine restaurant dinner, a vacation to a far-away place, even an evening at home without the children. We savor them. We talk about the pleasures and hold them in a special place in our memories. These times are part of what makes our lives rich and good.
In stories of earlier times, we read of different rare delights: the first greens after a long winter, the miracle of an orange, brand new shoes of one’s own, a trip to town. We can almost taste the pleasure of such moments–the exquisite experience of luxury.
Yet those pleasure are no longer ours. A trip to town doesn’t even score as an event in most people’s awareness. New shoes and oranges are nice, but hardly an occasion to feel blessed. The idea of a winter without lettuce is unthinkable, and we’d probably turn up our noses at those dandelion leaves–or whatever–that our forebears were so thrilled to eat.
Are we better off? In some ways I’m sure we are. Yet when abundance breeds assumptions of entitlement and an inability to appreciate, we are the losers.
I go to our little community garden in the midst of the city and pick the first few little strawberries and feel like the luckiest person in the world. Then my husband loads up on big fat transcontinental strawberries from the grocery store and my paltry little handful loses all its value. I’m at a loss. Do I want to impose scarcity on my family? Would it be possible if I tried? How can I help us be thankful in the midst of so much?
We joined a Community Supported Agriculture project a few years ago, buying a share of the produce of a nearby farm. It was fun to walk the city streets with a basket of produce on my arm, but I was surprised when we stopped getting lettuce in July. They said it was too hot. Though there are other sources of lettuce, I noticed my feeling of entitlement, and how put off I felt by their inability to come up with it. What, exactly, makes me entitled to lettuce?
I think I would be happier if I didn’t feel entitled to lettuce. I think my family would be happier if we didn’t take California strawberries for granted.
When we move from appreciating something as a rare luxury, to taking it for granted as the norm, to feeling ill-used without it, there is more stuff, but a steady loss of pleasure in it. Overabundance leads to gluttony. It diminishes our ability to be thankful and dulls our palate for life.
More columns by blogger Pamela Haines can be found at www.pamelascolumn.blogspot.com.
Amy Mazur says
I remember an incident not too long ago when I was offering a stress management workshop to some New Americans taking an English course.In broken English, one of the participants spoke about being grateful as a way to manage her stress. She went on to say that she was grateful for having her arms and legs, and no longer being in a war-torn country. It struck me deeply when she said it.
On my walk home from work that day, I became irritated because I noticed the city workers had not laid the new sidewalk correctly, and it did not match the color of our old sidewalk. I then took a breath, and literally stood frozen in my tracks as I realized the contrast of these two experiences and realized many things, one of which was how, as Pamela Haines states in her musings on More is Less, “…when abundance breeds assumptions of entitlement and an inability to appreciate, we are the losers.”