“You’re so lucky to be American.”
These words, spoken to me by a cab driver in Mumbai, have been kicking around in my head for nearly four weeks.
He was right.
I saw and experienced many amazing and beautiful things during the last few weeks in India and Asia. I also saw places of almost indescribable poverty, and met courageous people struggling in circumstances anathema to most Westerners.
Most of us lucky enough to be born in the West can’t really begin to imagine what life is like in the slums of Mumbai, can’t understand the circumstances that would force an intelligent 25 year old woman to drop out of university and work as a prostitute so she can feed her family. Our lives are so easy, so rich. We worry about what new clothes we’ll wear out tonight, whether we’ve downloaded the latest Beyonce album onto our iPod, or the trans-fat levels in our lavish meals.
Most people in this world can’t conceive of having such problems. We’re spoiled. We take so much of our lives for granted. We invent things to be scared, depressed or angry about. We spend more money going to a therapist because we fear our mother didn’t breast-feed us long enough than most Indians make in a month. We have so many opportunities, and have access to so much that should bring us constant joy, yet we’re bored and often depressed. How is that possible? Why have so many of us forgotten how to enjoy the simple pleasures in our very rich lives?
This is not to suggest that everyone in Third World Countries is poor, or that they are all unhappy. Quite the opposite is true – there are wealthy people in every country, and some of the happiest people I’ve ever known rank among the world’s poorest. But the average citizen of India, or Cambodia, or Africa, can only dream of the lives we lead. They will never know the joy of buying a new car, or planning a trip to the beach. They worry about how they’ll eat, how they’ll live, and for most of them, the poverty is a prison from which they’ll never escape.
Bill Maher famously once wrote, “My favorite movie is Saving Private Ryan, and at the end of it a dying Tom Hanks tells the saved private, “Earn this.” I try to remember that every day, and put myself in Ryan’s place. We’re all a little intoxicated with just being Americans, but even better would be to earn it. ”
So next time you find yourself annoyed because you have to wait 20 minutes for a table at your favorite restaurant, or irritated because someone else is using the machine you want at the gym, or frustrated because there’s a wait-list for Apple’s new iPhone, try to remember just how lucky you are to have these problems.
You won life’s lottery. Appreciate it every day.