“Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” ~Epicurus.
In the 1980’s, Jamaica went through some challenging times. The Prime Minister (Michael Manley, a self-declared Socialist) had aligned himself too closely to Cuba’s Fidel for the US to be comfortable, and actions were taken to squeeze the country. The IMF and the World Bank put the country under ‘heavy manners’, and life changed for many Jamaicans. There is an excellent documentary ‘Life and Debt’ which describes that era very well. Not only was the economic situation dire, the CIA helpfully shipped containers of weapons to criminal elements who they hoped would help to get rid of the socialist government, but which catalyzed a culture of crime and violence which still persists.
For the average person, the reality was supermarkets with empty shelves, and foreign vegetables. Home grown crops became worthless as the market was flooded with imports. Dairy farmers lost their livelihood as they could not compete with cheap imported milk powder. Supermarket owners soon found a way of ensuring that they were able to sell both popular and unpopular items by ‘marrying’ them. Even if you only needed a staple like flour, you could not purchase it without also buying another item. When my parents came up to Miami to visit me, my mother would wander around the supermarkets gazing in amazement at the shelves, the variety of foodstuffs, the choices. But being my mother, who always saw the world a little differently from others, she would declare: “Look at all the choices! It’s obscene!” For her, a limited choice of food items had turned her into an innovative cook, a creative baker. Her cakes, already legendary, began to have strange ingredients replacing the missing staples. She used oatmeal when flour was missing. Used honey if sugar was scarce. She could never replicate the same recipe twice, so it was always hit or miss.
We take choice for granted. It used to be that when we wanted to travel, we first went to the Travel Agency, and told them our travel dates. If we were lucky they would be able to offer us a few choices, maybe change the day of the week to get a better deal, but essentially we paid whatever they told us to. Now we are overwhelmed with options. There are multiple search engines, we can compare hundreds of airlines, travel times, return times, just by scrolling down. We can filter by price or by airport. It is obscene!
The nice thing about choices is that we have them, but sometimes that complicates matters. My generation (especially the females) did not feel as if we had an abundance of choices when we were growing up. There are those of my age (and older) who were trailblazers, brave enough to enter fields that were not seen to be for them. But most of us were not that adventurous. Girls who are coming of age now do not feel they have to be restricted, they can follow their dreams. But does that make their life more difficult? When you only have Door A and Door B to choose from, at least you know you have a 50/50 chance of picking the right one! Robert Frost would now have to choose between many roads, and would he be wondering about all the other less traveled pathways?
There seems to be a new way of talking to young children nowadays that I find interesting. I saw it on a friend’s facebook page. Her son (under the age of 5) was proud to tell her he had made ‘good choices’ at school that day. Apparently that is how the teachers are presenting things to these kids: think about your choices; make a good choice. What happens if you make a bad choice? I am pretty sure we weren’t given choices as children! We certainly couldn’t choose what we were given to eat, or which outfit to put on! You ate what was put in front of you or you went hungry! You wore your sister’s hand-me-downs with a smile! My granddaughter creatively picks her own outfits (on non-school mornings, uniforms take the choice out of that process) while her mother cringes at her fashion sense. In being given choices she is developing her own style, making her own statement.
The consumer-driven society in which we live convinces us that we have a right to be given choices, that we should have an abundance of sites and stores and catalogs from which to choose. But the most important choice we can make in life boils down to something innate, something which comes from within, not in the excessive choices we are presented with every day. Because in the end it boils down to your attitude, the way you savor the things you have, rather than being frustrated at the things you don’t. The ‘woulda, shoulda, couldas’ will drive you crazy. The, what if I had chosen my (mate/career/house/car/route home) differently, how would my life had turned out? If you are an unhappy person, there is no right choice that would have made you happy. If you want to compare your life/kids/bank account to those of another, you will remain dissatisfied and regretful.
Epicurus, the Greek philosopher quoted above, 1ived over 2 millenia ago, yet he had it right. When you appreciate what you have, when you enjoy the simple pleasures of life, you can have it abundantly.
On this fabulous Friday morning, may you be presented with just the right number of choices, and regardless of outcomes, may you enjoy every moment that comes. Delicious December (my month!) is here, and thus the screeching downhill ride to the end of the year. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!