Western culture has a distinct focus on the future. We’re all about innovations and trends. It seems that the en vogue mood is to not really be too interested in history: too full of things like racism and other forms of inequality for us to warrant being proud of it. The present moment is always traded for a future option – hard work pays off they keep telling us.
There is a lot of advice out there to be grateful. It could be argued that it’s generally good advice. However, as with all positive thinking, a forced positive thought always backfires. Hence, you cannot be compulsive or forceful about it. A better way would be to ask ourselves the sort of questions that could make us feel grateful: what good things happened today? What way can I use my situation? What’s good about my situation?
Even at that, I find the best way to feel grateful is by looking back where I started. I don’t mean compare bank balances and neighbourhoods. I mean think of everything I didn’t know back then that I know now. All the people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learnt. I’m always surprised by what I find.
Imagining it is a poor substitute for actually going back. I am writing this as I am flying back from the city where I spent a lot of time when I was younger. Immersing myself in that atmosphere highlighted the differences between me then and me now. Meeting the people I used to spend time with was one of the most insight-generating things I’d ever done. At one point we were so similar, and now we’ve diverged into our parallel universes. It’s an experiment I highly recommend to anyone. It’s would be a banal statement to say that travel really does give perspective, adds variety and a better understanding of what things mean. I think travelling to places we know well but have left behind is of a certain irreplaceable benefit.