How to appreciate what you already have by taking a break

5:20am. I used to take that damn train every Monday.

Wake up. Get dressed. A sad wave in the dark. And off I went.
Frrrrrrrrr. I had to drag that bloody suitcase everywhere.
Frrrrrrrrr. I spent so much time with it, I felt quite proud to be able to spin it around with one hand and avoid people at the last second.
But I never got over the noise of those black plastic wheels on the concrete pavement. Frrrrrrrrr.

Eventually, one of the two wheels split in two. I had to get rid of it. I never saw my suitcase again after that day, but I will never forget what it taught me.

Yes, you’re reading from someone who takes advice from his own suitcase.

suitcase of appreciation

It was supposed to last two months, maybe. Everything I owned was in a storage room 214 miles away, and I had no access to it.
That same suitcase that used to take the 5:20am train with me was now my treasure chest. It contained everything I had access to for months. Many months. Each month would be followed by another month. But the suitcase and its content stayed the same: from a Scandinavian jumper to my Kindle and other few essentials.
It was tiny, too. Cabin luggage. But even if most of my possessions were hundreds of miles away, I didn’t miss anything.
That suitcase taught me to appreciate what I have.

 

Why we value more what we don’t have.

Too often we take what we have for granted: we want something new, but once we have it, we lose interest.
We don’t appreciate what we have as much as what we would like to have.
Things we desired and fantasised about for a long time, suddenly become the “new normal“. They’re not that exciting.

Think about that time a new iPad came out, and you wanted to be the first to get one.
All sorts of stories came alive in your head. That new screen will finally unleash your inner artist. It’s so portable, you will finally go through that loooong reading list on your way to work.

Or maybe it was that new car. If only you had that new car. Or those shoes. Or those new headphones. They would revolutionise your life. Your current ones? Rubbish.

But if you’re reading this, you clearly already have a screen to read from. And if you really want to find your inner artist, you can start on paper and then move onto a retina display when you feel committed enough. Car or no car, you have plenty of options to move, and you’ve clearly done ok so far (maybe it is those shoes after all).

It even happens with relationships. We think that the grass is greener, or we wonder what things would be with a particular person. But how often do we take someone else for granted once they’ve become the new normal?

We already have it all, but constantly want “another one”. [click to tweet]

another-one“Another one”

Here are four reasons why we tend to value what we don’t have, and take what we do have for granted.

The Picture-Perfect effect

When things exist only in your head, you can paint the perfect picture.
Because you only have very little information about that new car, or about that person that makes you wonder “what if”, you have total freedom to ignore any flaws and issues. You can use your imagination to create the ideal representation of your desires.

The things you already own and the people you already know have no chance to win this game: because they exist in your experience, they come with their flaws and imperfections, no matter how special they might be.

It’s like comparing a computer rendering with the house you live in: the first is made up and suspiciously perfect, the second is very real and (though very close to your heart) has a couple of annoying cracks on the bathroom wall.

Zero effort, zero responsibilities

Let’s say you’ve just bought that new iPad because you want to learn how to draw.
Now you actually need to put in the many hours required to learn how to use those app, how to hold the magical pen, and improve your skills until you can finally create something that’s better than that child drawing your mum’s still proud of.

But when you paint that “perfect picture” in your mind, you have no responsibilities, no expectations. The magical pen will effortlessly guide your hand and suddenly you will become the digital Picasso.

Once again, the things that are present in your daily experience have no chance to win this fight.

Neomania: the obsession with the new

In an era when we are surrounded by infinite choice, we tend to give more value to the new.
In 2010, Google calculated that 129,864,880 books had been published until then. Surely some of them must be great and still relevant today. And yet, any storefront will show you “the latest book”.

The new captures our interest, but it’s also a simple, approximate rule to navigate an ocean of choice without having to overthink everything we do. And the incredibly fast and constant evolution of technology keeps reinforcing our belief that new equals better.

Fear of missing out

Friends call it FoMO: it’s the constant fear of having made the wrong decision on how to spend time, as “you can imagine how things could be different”.

Once again this is fuelled by the unmanageable amount of choice we are presented daily, and the need to say no to most of those possibilities. And when you look at Social Media and only see the positive side of other people’s lives, you wonder what’s the magic ingredient you’re missing.

appreciate what you have“If only I had that one thing.”

 

3 ways to appreciate what you already have

That sounds like a recipe for disaster: if we always focus on what we don’t have, we will never be content.

 

But do not despair: here are three antidotes you can use to learn to recognise the full worth of what’s already in your life.

  1. Know what’s going on

    Reminding yourself of the Picture-Perfect effect is a powerful way to break the illusion: you will realise what a crazy comparison you are making between what you know and experience in your everyday life, and what you haven’t yet encountered and exists only in your mind.
    This will make you appreciate the rich nuances of your current reality, but also the untainted perfection of your imagination.

  2. Notice the small things

    Daily gratitude is an effective way to notice and appreciate what you already have.
    I recently wrote about the 6 benefits of daily gratitude, and how you can integrate them into your daily life. I also love to use the 5 Minute Journal every day, and it has become one of my favourite daily rituals (read my full review here).

  3. Hit the reset button

    Sometimes, taking a break is the best way to appreciate what you have. I recently slept on the floor for 3 days, to remind myself of how little I need and how much I already have. Other things I like to do include not using my smartphone for a full day, fasting for a few hours, and travelling with a small piece of luggage. You can also take a break from your significant other or your closest friends, and travel on your own for a week.

    If you’re not quite ready for this yet, you can just use your imagination and practice the stoic exercise of negative visualisation, spending some time each day imagining that you have lost the things you value most. This may sound a bit extreme, but it will help you distance from what you have and appreciate their temporary nature.

Over to you now: what is something you’re taking for granted, but couldn’t really do without?
Send me an email and let me know: it’ll be our secret.

—Matt

 


Other articles you’ll enjoy:
Gratitude superpowers: improve your life daily.
Celebrate your wins to make your goals stick.

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