Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Cultivate Gratitude: Living Without

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.

There have been many instances in the past few years (especially in the last year) that I've had to go without something that I'd previously taken for granted. Although I'm usually inconvenienced for a limited period of time when this happens, I've found it makes me much more appreciative of the simple things.

Things I've Lived Without

Tap water

All year here in Korea I have not been able to drink the tap water, something I very much took for granted while living in Madison and Madrid. It's only a small inconvenience to boil water and let it cool, or buy 2-liter gallons of water at the supermarket and carry them home, but I'm now much more grateful for tap water that's safe to drink. I've also found that I drink less water when it takes a little bit of work to acquire it.

Drinking fountain

During winter break this year, the drinking fountains were disconnected because the school was being repainted. So I couldn't fill up my water bottle with drinking water. As a result, I drank a lot less water during those weeks than I normally did, but I also gained an appreciation for the drinking fountains.


At the start of this school year back in March our English room was lent to a class of second graders while their classroom was under construction. So as the English teachers, we went into each class's homeroom for English class. I had to adjust to each homeroom teacher's classroom set up and technology, with much less set-up time. We had to plan ahead and bring whatever extra materials were necessary for each class. Without a doubt I had taken our classroom for granted before living without one. It's so great to have an English classroom!


Also at the beginning of March, my computer was unable to print. Somehow the connection was lost between my computer and the printer, though my co-teacher could still print from his computer to the printer that we shared between us. Until he had time to fix it, I sent him documents via messenger to print whenever I needed to print something (though I held back and printed fewer lesson plans than before). I actually ended up going without a printer until May 22!


When I lived in Madrid, our microwave broke one day. My roommates didn't want to replace it right away, so I simply adjusted and started to reheat things on the stove in a pan. This continued for about a month, until they acquired the microwave of a family member who was moving away. While I now live without a microwave by choice, at that time the situation was forced upon me so I adapted to it and once again gained appreciation through the experience.


While I haven't forced any of these situations upon myself like Leo Babauta in his "A Year of Living Without" project (Zen Habits), I've still taken away two main realizations from these "without" experiences." First, I've become more grateful for things in my life that I otherwise took for granted. When you spend your time and fill your mind with thoughts appreciating what you have, you're not wasting time or space thinking about what you do not have. Cultivating these positive thoughts is so important for a healthy mind.

Secondly, it's clear to me how much environment affects my actions. When I live in a place without a microwave, I don't eat gross microwaveable meals. When I work somewhere with drinking fountains in the hallways, I drink more water. So if you can change your environment in any way - no matter the size - to support a healthy habit, it'll make it so much easier to develop and practice.

What have you lived without recently? Was the experience frustrating, or did it build up your gratitude?
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