It seems to me that sometimes we forget just how fortunate we are.
The last six months have certainly provided plenty of opportunity to complain about all sorts of things and complain we have; from lack of toilet rolls to perceived lack of freedom to people encroaching on our space when we are carefully orchestrating our personal physical distancing at the supermarket…
What strikes me as interesting in all of this is that, so often in life, we don’t truly appreciate what we have until it’s taken away because we have taken things for granted.
When considering how to share this view I chose Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which formed part of his paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ published in 1943 as it’s still relevant. You may be familiar with it and there’s plenty of information about it if you do a web search.
His theory is illustrated as a triangle with 5 layers of needs, the broad base of which is Physiological and then working up via Safety, Love/Belonging and Esteem to the tip which is Self-Actualisation. The bottom two layers are seen as base needs, the next two are psychological needs and the top is self-fulfillment needs
Physiological needs include food, water, air, sleep, sex, excretion, shelter and clothing. Take a moment to consider each of these for a moment and you’ll recognise that if any one of these were missing either partly or entirely from your life it would have an enormous impact. Most people living in Australia today (or any ‘westernised’ or ‘first world’ countries) have access to all these to a greater or lesser extent and yet many have little appreciation of it. Food is wasted, water and air are polluted, we have clothes we rarely wear and many own more than one property.
Included in Safety needs are physical and psychological safety, secure employment or source of income, safe place to live and access to resources. We can generally feel safe to go where we want and do what we want (provided it’s legal!) but there are people who do not feel safe in their home or workplace either physically, psychologically or both. Our employment can give us a sense of purpose and achievement and everyone needs money; imagine, as some have experienced recently, you lose your job and your household income is suddenly zero; it highlights where we may have wasted income in the past and also what is at risk and the changes needed.
The third layer of Love/Belonging is in relation to friends, family and intimacy. I know that I have taken my family for granted in the past and probably some friends too and I have missed opportunities to deepen the relationship and appreciate all that they have brought into my life that I didn’t realise or appreciate at the time. Then one day they are no longer there.
Esteem on the fourth level relates to confidence, achievement and respect (self and others) and if any of these have been easily gained we assume that they will always be there but they can just as easily be taken away in a moment and take a long time and great effort to regain.
The top layer of Self-Actualisation comprises morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving and lack of prejudice. Again if these have been part of our life and been included in our expectations imagine being told what to do all the time or someone abusing you because of your gender, sexuality, skin colour, race, religion or beliefs in general. If we haven’t experienced it, we don’t necessarily value it.
Although not explicitly included in the layers, I also wanted to highlight health – physical and psychological. It’s entirely possible to remain healthy into old age if we pay attention to it, value what we have and take care of ourselves but many people experience health problems along the way and often it’s only when our body stops working or our brain does something strange that we start take it seriously.
In the words of Joni Mitchell ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ rings true in myriad ways and indicates to me that we could all expand our appreciation of all that we have.
Phone someone and let them know how important they are in your life. Take time to breathe the air, drink the clean water, savour the fresh food available. Take responsibility for your health. Support someone to help them feel safe. Start a gratitude journal or jar.
What or who have you been taking for granted and what will you do to change that in future?