The other day I was in the bread aisle of a grocery store. For half a second my mind was just in amazement that such a thing could exist at all. In all of human history, in the history of all animals who have ever lived, to have so many calories available for me, without having to worry about defending myself or fending off predators, is just mind blowing.
I felt moved by tremendous gratitude, for just a half second, before the ‘this is normal’ narrative turned back on and said “why feel intensely moved by bread?” I reminded myself that this narrative might explain much of the mental illness and diseases of anxiety we have – because we don’t realize and appreciate how good we have it.
The ‘this is normal’ narrative uses shame and fear of looking silly to rob us of the incredible positive emotions that can sustain our mental wellbeing and empower us to make the world slightly better. I think people are so hungry for social status, they’ll make fun of other people in ways that end up making themselves less happy; it’s way more cool to be cynical than it is to express profound joy for the myriad blessings of modernity.
Yes, indignity and justice and suffering still exist in large quantities, but this has always been the case in human history. People have sold their children into slavery to avoid starving to death, and we are so far from that, we all act like it didn’t happen, like it couldn’t happen again.
It’s as if history is just a class people took in school, instead of the lived stories of so many people who lived in suffering, and despite that, loved us and sacrificed for us, before they knew us. We relate to the suffering of our ancestors the way we relate to our mitochondria; we might understand that they are the powerhouses of our cells, without thinking too much about how they feel or what they want and need. Indignity and human suffering aren’t new or unique in human history. My ability to feed myself without a second thought places me among the elite of elite for the vast majority of written history. If I can’t have gratitude for that, why should I expect myself to be happy at all, regardless of my circumstances?
What would my ancestors think, if they saw me feeling gratitude for the blessings I have in my life? Would they think me an idiot for being grateful for what I could take for granted? Or would they think, “finally, his head is out of his ass, maybe he’ll stop complaining about the tiny problems he has, and work on making life better for the rest of our descendants?
I looked around at all the products available on the shelf, and thought about how much work I’d have to do to create any one of these products myself. I felt grateful that I live in such a time, and a desire to help more people take part in such a bounty.
If this post inspired you to feel better at all, please consider donating to your local food bank. There’s a lot of people who could use your help. Our ancestors will thank you.