Realizing that materialistic aspects of life do not make the difference between a miserable and a happy individual is the key to gratitude
Two weeks had flown by since I first arrived in Cape Town, South Africa to study abroad. I was on my way to dinner with friends when the taxi driver pointed out the underdeveloped urban living areas, referred to as townships, visible from either side of the car.
The townships consist of tin houses, no larger than a college student’s dorm room, yet occupied by entire families. A row of outhouses reside on the outskirts of each township, to which I learned could only be accessed during the day, for at night it was too dangerous.This quickly put some matters into perspective for me, realizing that many humans do not have access to basic human needs such as safety.
A psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow constructed the Hierarchy of Needs in 1934. He believed that in order for humans to successfully reach their full potential, individuals must have access to basic needs, such as safety.
By realizing how grateful I was to feel safe in my environment, I was able to learn three key lessons.
1. Don’t consume yourself worrying about the trivial issues
A cracked Iphone screen, approaching essay deadlines, or bad night out with friends will understandably make you feel stressed out. However it becomes a little absurd to let these conflicts consume your mind into believing that “nothing is going your way.”
By recognizing these fundamental elements of life you are lucky to have, you can shift your focus from constantly worrying about the smaller issues. You will find that many of these seemingly awful conflicts, in the grand scheme of things, do not matter all that much.
2. Separate the Essentials From the Non Essentials
We have a habit of misidentifying essential human needs as owning glamorous cars, high praise from others, or the ability to boast a long list of achievements. We fail to realize that for some, obtaining these nonessentials is unimaginable, as they lack some of the very basic human needs, such as safety.
Our needs far surpass the ability to have a spacious house or personal bathroom. Not everyone is fortunate enough to even have a place to rest your head night after night, or a door to lock before going to bed.
Separating the essentials from the non essentials will help promote genuine happiness and gratitude. Realizing that many of these materialistic aspects of life are yes, nice to have, but do not make or break the difference between a miserable and happy individual.
3. Gratitude Promotes Awareness
For many, personal safety has never been an issue. We do not even think to question just how many people are less fortunate than ourselves. We adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” complex in order to avoid facing sensations of guilt, shame, and helplessness. However, in doing so we also inhibit ourselves from expressing gratitude and realizing just how fortunate many of us are.
At times, the gang violence can become so persistent in Cape Town townships, people cannot leave their houses for days at a time, in order to avoid the rapid fire of bullets that plague their community.
I returned from Cape Town not only with more knowledge, but possessing a drive to understand the issues in my own country. I learned that within America, as of January 2015, 564,708 people were hohmeless on a given night in the United States. Over a third of these individuals were people in families.
The more you recognize the aspects of life you were fortunate enough to be given, you can start to question how to make it so that any human has access to basic needs. Admitting you may be far more fortunate than most is only half the battle.
The second half is asking yourself what you can be doing to help impoverished communities access these essentials. Admitting the world isn’t perfect, but with active involvement, gratitude, and understanding we can help it get a little closer