13 August 2018

I don't like colour of my new Mercedes

My daughter recently told me that she had seen an Instagram video about a US teenager who complainedthat she didn't like the colour of the Mercedes her parents had bought her for her birthday. My girl was incredulous that the teenager could be so ungrateful.

But it strikes me that we all do the same thing.

For example, yesterday when I was paying by credit card for my produce at a fruit and vege shop, I felt a momentary wave of annoyance when they didn't have the option of payWave (contactless payment). I had to stick my card in the machine and type in my PIN. Oh, what a groan that was (not).

At first we love extreme convenience, and get a hit of happiness from it. But how quickly we come to treat any deviation from it as actual inconvenience. And how unhappy this dissatisfaction makes us!

Can we escape this crazy thought treadmill? For a start, we can think about it clearly and objectively.

Looking clearly at our own Mercedes

Much like the spoilt Dudley Dursley who complains that his parents haven't given him enough birthday presents, every time we take for granted an incredible life-enhancing advancement that has been bestowed upon us, we lose opportunity to appreciate how lucky we are.

Furthermore, by failing to be satisfied with what we've got and wanting more and better, we water the seeds of dissatisfaction that lie inside us, and we demand a load from this planet - a load that is not ours to take.

Being blind to the wonders we have been given

There are people, long dead, who worked hard to develop incredible technologies that make our lives deeply luxurious. Do we appreciate this every day?

Our unfashionable but very functional almond-toned toilet.

No. We thumb our noses at them and act like spoilt teenagers when we don't frequently feel grateful for:
1. Toilets that flush away our excrement.
2. Taps that give us clean, drinkable water (in more than one room of the house, and in hot and cold versions).
3. Electricity, which gives us instant light and heat.
4. Ovens that heat up with the flick of a switch.

Our luxurious oven.

Instead, we wish we had a floating toilet and a designer kitchen, a butler's pantry, a double wall oven and an induction hob. (Hey, me too - although I'd like a composting toilet, and I have no desire for a butler's pantry.)

Never mind the sumptuousness of more than one bedroom per family (or even one actual room per family!) clothes we don't have to spin, weave, knit or sew, motorised carriages that do the job of our muscles to get us from one place to another, and supermarkets full of intensely convenient food.

Are milk, butter, flour and pre-picked vegetables not intensely convenient? Try owning a cow, milking it, churning the butter, keeping it all cold, growing your own wheat and grinding it, and growing all the vegetables you eat from seed. Supermarkets are halls of opulence.

I recently read that three billion people in the world cook over wood and dung. Fortunately I was lying down when I read that astounding figure. Good God. I press a shiny button, while they collect wood and dry animal dung just to boil water.

But here's how to give yourself a recurring shot of happiness: simply appreciate this luxury we live with and the convenience of so many aspects of our modern lives. See them the way our great-great-great grandparents would.

The environmental cost

Each time we indulge our human characteristic of wanting more and better, there are costs to the planet:
- fuel to move around you or the product or its raw materials;
- greenhouse gases to be burnt to extract, produce and transport;
- removal of the raw materials from wherever they originated;
- any packaging the thing comes with it;
- the disposal of the thing when you've finished with it;
- the years it will spend in landfill;
- any pollution involved with its production, use or disposal (e.g. discharge into waterways or air).

This is why second-hand stuff is a great way to indulge our desirous natures - those resources are already spent on this product, so you might as well get the most out of it.

A second-hand chair.

Our human-ness

Yes, these feelings are core to our being: humans tend to be intrinsically never satisfied and always want more and better. Our drive to satisfy our wants and needs is why humans have burgeoned in number and drastically modified the planet. We are outrageously accomplished animals.

But we're higher-plane beings, too. We can control our desires and where we put our thoughts, time and energy. We need to put more effort into this! We all have work to do in this area, but it's rewarding.

We know that the short term pleasure of shopping and purchasing is fleeting, and our happiness level quickly returns to what it was. We know that comparing ourselves to those who have more than us is a source of misery. We know that spending time in nature makes us happier and healthier. We just need to refocus our lens.

Action plan

This is what I try to do:

  • Make do with what I have, and take pleasure in it.
  • Care for it well, and take pleasure in my accomplishment.
  • Buy what I need second hand, and take pleasure in the searching and finding.
  • Learn how to make what I need, and take pleasure in my creations.
  • Be aware that these action points are leaving the planet less pillaged.
  • Get out in nature to enjoy what we still have. I really, really take pleasure in that.

A kereru I spotted while walking through the bush near our house recently.

Above all, look for things to be grateful for. You can do it several times a day when you flush the toilet! Unless you're lucky enough to have a composting one, that is ...

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