This past weekend I went hiking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington. Our three person crew carried our tents and food over rough terrain for over 23 miles up 4,000 ft of elevation. We had glorious weather on our ascent, and were faced with rain and a leaking tent in the evening. Whilst hiking back on our descent we talked about how great it will be to change into dry socks and enjoy a peanut butter banana sandwich back at the car. For the next week every time we had a hot meal, woke up in a dry bed, and took a warm shower we rejoiced!
Whilst reflecting on this phenomena on the plane ride back to Baltimore, I remembered that this is not a new feeling for me. I do a 24-hr fast once per month, upon breaking the fast the first thing I eat feels like the best food I have ever consumed. After volunteering I am always oozing with gratitude for how fortunate I truly am.
It turns out that this, like most ideas, is not a new concept. Seneca, in his “Moral letters to Lucilius”, touches on this topic during the letter: On Festivals and Fasting. He writes, “I am so firmly determined, however, to test the constancy of your mind that, drawing from the teachings of great men, I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” 6. It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs manoeuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.” Seneca continues, “8. There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item, – that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practise our strokes on the “dummy”; let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.”
You want to have a healthy appreciation for what you have? Become acquainted with poverty. You want to consume less? Consume less. You want to become more mindful and cherish everyday moments? For a short time, put yourself out of the everyday moments. Change your point of view.