We Are Inconstant

Despite the many problems we have in this country, we are still among the most fortunate people in the world. While we must continue to strive to improve our country and our world, we also should not forget that we have probably the highest quality of life in the history of mankind.

That privilege, however, will not likely last forever. Our individual fates are also fragile: it only takes an accident, a major illness, job loss or natural disaster to turn our fortunes around. Here by the grace of God…

I know that everyone knows this on some level.   But it’s all too easy to forget and behave as if this privilege is our right and ours to enjoy forever.   In fact, everything is impermanent and subject to change or loss.

Strangely, I’m grateful for when we have a hurricane and we lose power for several days. Such a loss provides a vivid reminder for how dependent we are on the things we take most for granted. When the power goes out, we disconnect from the TVs and computers and spend time walking and visiting with our friends, family and neighbors. We spend more time attending to our food and physical environment. We never take a balmy evening or a cool breeze for granted when the heat pump is on vacation.  And when the lights come back on, we have a precious few minutes before we start to take the electricity for granted again.

Spend a minute thinking feeling gratitude for the following items that we tend to take for granted. Which of these are you most likely to take for granted as being constant in your life? Going forward, see if you can remember to be grateful every day for some of the things you’ve been taking for granted:

  • Clean air
  • Water – clean, accessible and plentiful
  • Sewage services – down the tubes without smell or contamination
  • Electricity – lights, refrigeration, washer/dryer, HVAC
  • Shelter – warm/cool and dry
  • Clothing – sufficient in quality, quantity and even style
  • Ready transportation and good roads
  • Food – plentiful, safe and varied, and even prepared for you sometimes
  • Friends, family and neighbors
  • Technology, like Star Trek
  • Entertainment – 24/7 of all kinds
  • Safe community
  • Community and government infrastructure – stable and largely functional
  • Health care – accessible and comprehensive (for the most part)
  • Good health – body and mind
  • Jobs and economic opportunity
  • Education – at all levels for all people

Let us savor our good fortune.  Let’s hope it lasts.


7 thoughts on “We Are Inconstant

    1. I agree! However, to the degree that we do have good things in our external circumstance, we can appreciate them while we have them as well.

      I think a great example is Nelson Mandela and the story Life is Beautiful. Their spirits were free even though they were imprisoned. If we can live like that the rest is superfluous.

      I don’t think most of us are there yet… so in the meantime we get to try to manage internal and external simultaneously. What do you think?

      1. I agree that “Life is Beautiful” is a good example of what I was referring to. And I agree that it can be difficult to reach that type of appreciation.

        But I suppose I have a hard time looking at privilege as something to celebrate as it reminds me of inequality (and all it entails) — so I’ve found those types of ideas unsatisfying.

        I think it’s more satisfying to appreciate our surroundings as a whole and not separate the good and bad. Once we start segregating experiences, we’re heading down an unpleasant path.

        Does that make sense?

      2. Very thought provoking comments, thank you! To clarify, I am not saying “celebrate” as much as “appreciate”. For example: feeling thankful for the running water and electric as you turn the tap and flip the light knowing that you may not have it tomorrow. Adding an acknowledgement that not everyone is so lucky would make that gratitude even deeper.

        You’re saying though not to judge the presence of water or electric as even good or bad…? Does that mean you think we shouldn’t have gratitude for what we have, since it’s all neutral? I’m not sure one precludes the other. I can be grateful for “bad” things because they are learning opportunities, and grateful for “good things” because they bring comfort. That gratitude does not require judging them as good or bad at all. How about finding a reason to be grateful no matter what it is?

      3. I find it hard to consider myself lucky, as it presumes I can discern what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. As an example, perhaps I’m electrocuted by faulty wiring or flooded-out by busted water pipes.
        I think this story about the farmer and his neighbor is a good illustration:

        It also implies that those without electricity live a more unsatisfying life than I do — but I have no evidence for this, and it might be incorrect.

        So to me at least, it seems best not to judge the presence of water and electricity as good or bad. It’s ultimately unsatisfying to have gratitude for the fleeting particulars of life — but we should have gratitude for life as a whole. So yes, be grateful no matter what life presents us — but this implies that we never separate what’s “good” from what’s “bad”, as it’s all “life”, and essentially all good.

        Does that makes sense?

      4. I think we’re on the same page. Perhaps the only difference is whether we feel gratitude for ALL the individual things in our lives (see this blog for my perspective: https://findingpositiveperspective.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/dealing-with-disappointments-and-setbacks/) . I think those stories are more about not judging those things, rather than suggesting that we do not feel gratitude towards good or bad things. And whether we parse our gratitude to life as a whole or to ALL the things and events in our life (or both) I’m not sure makes that much difference except when it comes to relationships. I think gratitude is hugely reinforcing between people. For example, if my spouse does something hugely kind for me or is a sacrifice for him, and I think “it just is”, I’ve lost an opportunity to value his kindness and generosity.

        Thanks for a rich discussion!

      5. I think we’re essentially on the same page, I’ve been subscribed to your blog for a while now (my “Like” is even on the 7/26 post you mentioned). But I can’t seem to reconcile the idea of being thankful for life’s particulars, as it puts a lot of focus on life’s fleeting material aspects, whereas it seems we should be headed in the other direction, towards the non-material.

        I would claim it does make a difference whether we parse our gratitude or not. I’d say we are basically in a relationship with “life”, and as such, it’s not the best idea to note the good things a partner does, as if we’re keeping a tally. We are to love them wholly, giving everything we have, not for their sake, but our own. I think it works out better to value someone not based on what they do for us, but what they mean to us.

        Similarly, we should value life because it provides us with existence, not because it does something nice once in awhile — because often times, it’ll be a long time before we realize life was being nice to us. What seems harsh at first can become the greatest gift.

        And thank you for the discussion as well.

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