This is a personal post, about something I experienced when a stroke of luck made me more fortunate than I was expecting.
Growing up, I lived with my mom, stepfather, and my little sister. For most of my life, we lived comfortably in what I always perceived to be smack dab in the middle class. We never lacked for necessities, and were even spoiled in many respects, but there were a lot of things that we couldn’t afford to have or do that many of my friends took for granted. When my mom and step-dad divorced when I was 16, finances became even more of an issue. My mom was the sole provider for herself and I, and only received financial help for my sister. Frugal was the name of the game, and we were active players.
Fast forward to now: 20 years old, working steadily since 15. I have two jobs during the school year and 3 different scholarships to pay my way through college. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t proud of myself for managing to be so self-sufficient. During the summer I work too, and am currently saving up to purchase my first car by the end of the year (because for all the ease and convenience public transit boasts, it sure as hell isn’t always easy and convenient). I regularly help my mom by lending or giving her money, and spend my own hard-earned cash on anything that isn’t essential.
Even with all the things I regularly provide for myself, every so often I have the money to treat myself to something new and shiny. About 6 months ago, I saved up for awhile and upgraded from a glitchy, questionably “smart” phone to a brand new Samsung Galaxy S3. My mom and two best friends already owned the phone themselves by then, and I was excited about buying myself something so expensive. I decked it out in a cute little case (in hindsight, it probably should’ve been a cute big case), and snapped a few pics of myself with it to post triumphantly on Facebook.
Low and behold, it was only a few weeks after getting the phone that a tragic accident happened. During a particularly intense zombie-related manhunt game (Humans vs Zombies is always particularly intense, to be honest), my phone was knocked out of my hand and the screen shattered. I was horrified. I would show you a picture of the aftermath, but it’s far too graphic and upsetting to be featured on my blog.
I did end up getting it replaced (thank the powers that be for warranties), but the replacement that was sent to me was refurbished and defective. It had a tendency to shut off randomly, which would be extremely problematic if I needed to call the cops after being mugged, or suddenly ran into Johnny Depp on the street and needed to take a picture. Neither of those things ever happened, but I didn’t want to have a derpy device hindering me if they ever did. So I called my service provider about the issue, and after a bit of troubleshooting they placed an order for a new phone to replace my defective one.
It took several weeks before they mailed anything out because apparently Samsung Galaxy S3s are in super-high demand (obviously–they’re so awesome they’re practically sentient), and they were on backorder. Almost a month later, I was notified that since they’re still out of stock with S3s, I would be receiving a different phone of equal or greater value. Begrudgingly, I accepted this and waited anxiously for the mailman to bring me my new Facebook/texting/Snapchat machine.
When my mom sent me a picture of the package I’d received while I was at work yesterday, my mind didn’t really know how to comprehend the image for several seconds. I’d been sent a brand new Samsung Galaxy S4, a phone that had only been released a month before and sold for more than $300. The discovery made for an uncharacteristically fantastic Monday.
As my mom aptly put it: No fucking way.
It’s obvious my level of good fortune was over 9000. But after I was able to come down from the high of having new things, I began to feel bad. Embarrassed. Guilty. I’d gotten something that my boyfriend, best friends, and mom all would love to have, and I didn’t do a damn thing to deserve it. I didn’t buy it, work for it, or even win it in some contest. I was just more fortunate than those around me in this situation. It didn’t feel fair, how much I’d suddenly lucked out. I didn’t post on Facebook about my new phone (anyone who knows me also knows I post about nearly everything), and I didn’t rave about it to my friends. I didn’t even play with all the new features too much once I set up my contacts and whatnot.
Later that night, I was dissecting my feelings about my new phone (in the shower, where all great thinkers come up with their best everything). I realized my feelings can’t just be unique to me–anyone who grew up in what’s called the lower or middle class can probably relate. We’re raised with the notion that some people are just born better off, and in accepting that we’re also raised to deem it unjust. We watch celebrities who’re famous for nothing more than a sex tape, we go to school with that one snobby girl who only wears Abercrombie and only carries Chanel, and we look at these people and clench our teeth because it just doesn’t seem fair. Why do they deserve all of that?
Exhibit A: Kim Kardashian
Many of us envy those who are born with a silver iPhone in their mouth, until we work hard enough or meet the right people or even marry the right person, and we become one of them. When we get a shot at living “the good life,” suddenly we deserve it because we worked for it. But what makes you more deserving of what you have than all the people who’ve never even gotten a chance to get to where you are? What about kids in inner cities with terrible school districts, kids who have to work to support their siblings, kids who made one bad choice and got a bad record? Are you really where you are because you worked harder and are more deserving than people who grew up like that?
My point is, it will never be “fair.” In spite of how much effort you’ve put into things, there’s always someone who worked just as hard (or harder), and who’s still less fortunate than you. What we need in order to be happy is a paradigm shift. We need to resist being upset when things aren’t fair, and quit obsessing over who deserves what and why we don’t have what others do. I’ve done it myself, and I’ve seen what it does to those I care about, and it’s obvious that life will never feel satisfying if you’re always trying to decide what you’re entitled to and what someone else isn’t.
It all boils down to being thankful. I don’t think it’s bad for people to aspire to be more, and I know it’s impossible to cut out all feelings of jealousy. I felt it when my friend got a brand new Mustang for her 16th birthday, I felt it when a classmate said their parents could pay for whatever university they wanted to attend, and I felt it when I saw a picture of a bunch of people at San Diego Comic Con today. The key to making those things be fleeting thoughts rather than reasons to brood is constantly enjoying what you do have. Live in an ongoing state of joy for your own good things, and counter every negative thought with something that you know you’re fortunate for having. It sounds like the kind of advice you’d hear from Barney the Dinosaur, but it works for me and I believe it can work for so many others.
Right on, purple dude.
If you’re reading this right now, you have internet access, you can read English, you have sight, and you’re alive. Throw a party, man! You’re better off than countless others! For some people, this kind of positivity can be more difficult. If you believe in the Christian God, you might find yourself asking Him for things and not understanding why you don’t get them. But come on–if the Big Guy is listening, He’s made it pretty clear by now that He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do, regardless of what you say with your head bowed and eyes closed.
Appreciate life in such a way that for every thing you don’t have, you can rattle off a list of a dozen more things you are happy about having. Then the next time you meet someone who just bought a new pair of spinning rims for his gold jet ski (thank you, Bo Burnham), you can revel in the fact that in spite of what you lack, you are still truly happy.