Perceiving Value: a Resolution

The beginning of a new year is a time notorious for people like me (i.e. the over-thinkers) to self-indulgently reflect on the big-picture trajectory of life, and the point at which we currently find ourselves on said trajectory.

In the early days of any new year, I find myself looking back on the one I’ve had, what I achieved over the previous 12 months (in this case, travel galore) and looking ahead to what I hope lies before me, turning these hopes into more solid plans through resolutions.

One thought has occurred to me time and again this past week, due to situations in which I have repeatedly found myself, and this thought has transformed itself into something resembling a resolution.

I have become aware how much the value of absolutely anything in the world goes infinitely up the moment it is not within our possession. Whether it is monetary wealth, good health, specific relationships, opportunities or circumstances, we lust after that which we do not have. As the age old saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

London is a place where you see extremes you simply don’t encounter in New Zealand. I see excessive wealth and severe poverty on the daily, and both are confronting; both make me check my own privilege.

Even amongst my own circle of acquaintances, I see wealth to a level which I can currently only dream of, and I find myself longing for it; for the comfort it brings and the doors it opens. As I walk along inwardly bemoaning my lack of something I perceive as so valuable, I will pass someone who is living unbelievably rough on the city streets. I think how I must appear to them as someone who has everything, and how unjust it is for me to want for anything in the face of such genuine need.

Every time I talk to someone who has something I want for myself, I quickly realise that they – frustratingly, in my eyes – don’t see it as such an asset as I do, but how can I blame them, when I do the very same thing? More often than not, as soon as something is within our grasp, it becomes taken for granted, and value is sought in the things which we do not possess.

One example that struck a chord with me is pop superstar and the world’s most followed person on Instagram, Selena Gomez. She has so much of what people everywhere strive for: fortune, a voice, a platform, legions of adoring fans, beauty, kindness, and opportunities wherever she may choose to take them. Yet she doesn’t have one of the most basic things that it is utterly out of her control to acquire; a thing that many of us possess without ever reflecting on it: good health. It is something we only feel grateful for once it is taken away.

As a side effect of the severe lupus she was diagnosed with, Selena underwent a kidney transplant last year, and she will be living with this disease and its various side effects for the rest of her life. She is someone who we would say ‘has it all’ and yet she must have moments when she looks at people like you and me and yearns desperately for what we have.

As a personal example, I think about the mouth ulcers I get on a regular basis. A little thing, you may think, but when I have them, I assure you it’s no little thing; they make it impossible for me to focus on anything else. Not because I dwell on them, but because I truly cannot eat or talk or swallow without a certain amount of discomfort and pain. Can’t a girl just enjoy her mandarin in peace?!

When I have them, all I can think of is life before the ulcer, when my mouth was so blissfully pain-free, when I could do whatever I like without even a thought. I always think, ‘when this goes away, I’m going to be so thankful every day.’ But of course I am not, and that is part of the joy that comes with good health, or wealth, or any good thing – by having it, we are relieved of the burden of thought... the not noticing is part of the privilege.

I am not saying, of course, that we should all be contented with what we have and stop aspiring to greater things. I think setting goals and striving to reach them is a good thing. But what I do want to change, for myself at least, is the regard in which I hold those things already in my life.

(I told you I was an over-thinker.)