I used to always, always fear (and secretly believe) that I was incapable of such an act. I'd wonder, then feel silly for not knowing, but still wonder how I could possibly value my life and my privilege the "right" way when I’ve never known any different.
Growing up, I knew I was lucky because people told me so. They still do, except now I'm trying much harder to really get what that means. But it’s not easy.
Appreciation is supposed to be instinctive and natural, I thought.
I should know how to appreciate without any instruction other than how to express my gratitude: with words, with gestures, and with the delight that I feel all the way down to my tippy-toes.
Just this past week, I spent a part of my summer in Costa Rica working with kids who come from struggling families. I marveled at the way they lit up like Christmas trees at the sight of something as expendable as an ice-cream cone—appreciation alight and alive in their eyes, and yet all I could do was wonder how they did it.
I remember thinking how I couldn't even muster that level of enthusiasm when I got my first laptop, and while I'd never admit that to anyone's face because they likely wouldn't understand (and I wouldn't blame them for not being able to), sometimes I need people to know that I'm guilty of feeling this way so that they can criticize me and blame me and slap me in the face until I light up like a Christmas tree, too when my life proves yet again that it's too good to me.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that up until recently, I thoroughly convinced myself that I was doing this whole appreciation thing wrong. It wasn't until I accepted that it's okay to have to make more of an effort than some people do to feel gratitude that I realized I wasn't a lost cause.
In fact, it's okay to have to be extra conscious about appreciation because it doesn't come as "naturally" to me. It's okay to count my blessings differently than a kid with nothing and no one would, because I'm not him. I don't share his experiences. I can't see from his point of view. And as my parents often remind me, I was lucky enough to be born into a jar of honey (that he may have never gotten the slightest taste of).
How, then, can we appreciate the same? We can't.
This is a bit of an exaggeration, but let me put it this way to make it clearer: I was born with only the taste of honey in my mouth. So as mad and ashamed at myself as I am for not knowing bitterness, I don't. And because I don't, I also don't know sweetness the same. Like I said, I've only known sweetness, and when you only know something, it's hard to appreciate that you know it, because you don't know what it's like to not know it. Hopefully that didn't just confuse you more... (Of course, this doesn't hold true for every aspect of my life. I mean, let's be real: life has happened and pooped on me and made a mess of my mind and my feelings at some of the most inopportune moments over the years. It's just that I'm choosing to recognize that, in spite of everything, my jar of honey has been pretty sweet, and life doesn't have to be perfect to be appreciated. My life is nowhere near fairy-tale status, but given that we live in reality, it's pretty darn close.)
I live a wonderful life, and I've lost count of how many times I've told that to myself. I don’t have to want for anything: not my freedom, not my happiness, not my stability. What more could I ask for? Nothing's stopping me from living the life I want, being the person I want to be. Ask anyone, and they'll happily scream in your face (and mine) that I’m living the dream! At least I'd expect that they would, because I try to give people that impression.
I don't do it because I want to shove my happy life in their faces but because I want the people around me to know that I know of everything my life has set me up for. I may never do this knowledge justice in the eyes of many because I haven't their losses to compare my fortunes to, but at least I know that I have more to value than I can be grateful for, and at least I try to act on that.
So, yeah, it's my intention to give people every impression that I love my life because I do, and also because I'm aware that if I lack the enthusiasm to express it, I'd be labeled a haughty witch who doesn’t realize how good she’s got it, and I don't want that. I don’t want to be seen seriously complaining about or dismissing my life because that hurts people. I’ve seen it happen, and for me to do the same would be insensitive.
Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not rich and privileged beyond measure. I don't swim in an ocean of money, and I definitely don't want to give anyone the impression that I do. My family’s perfectly average. It's just that we’re in a good place, and that’s more than I can say for a lot of people. I wish it weren’t true, and I wish it wasn’t that way, but just like everyone else, my card was also drawn from a hand dealt by Fate, so I can't blame myself too much for that. For now, I can only try to justify that by doing my best to deserve the life that I drew.
And I do. Every time that I remind myself to look around at my life and the people in it that I have to be grateful for, I'm appreciating. Every time that I'm more ready to give than I am to take (not because I can afford to but because I want to), I'm appreciating. Every time that I choose to be optimistic and positive and self-conscious and selfless, I'm appreciating. Because in all of these small gestures, there is proof that I care, and every time that I care, I'm showing myself a little bit more that I DO appreciate.