A frustrating thing about humanity is that we get tired of what we have pretty quickly. A new house, a new job, a new car all become part of our normal and fade to the background just a short time after we have them. The newness of the thing and the excitement it makes us feel disappear, and instead of appreciating what we have, it just exists with us as we start to look at other things we want.
This is part of the human mind that kept our ancestors striving for more and pushing to live better lives. Part of this mindset drove our evolution and helped get our species to the place we are at today. But in each of our individual lives, we can take this too far. Seneca, in Letters From a Stoic, has some advice with this in mind.
“Fix a limit which you will not even desire to pass, should you have the power. At last, then, away with all these treacherous goods! They look better to those who hope for them than to those who have attained them.”
We have all seen unnecessary and extravagant uses of money that seem more like showing off than anything else. What Seneca’s advice says, is that we should find a point where the use of money, the consumption of goods, or the continued accumulation of power just seems over the top. At that point of ridiculous extravagance, we should place a marker for ourselves saying no more. Over time, we should work to fit more things on the opposite side of that marker, constantly thinking about the things in our lives that are meaningful, help us live better, help humanity advance, or that just show off. The more we can be content without needing wealth to flaunt, the more we can live a meaningful life that we can enjoy. The limit we set can be at any point, which means it can be extremely extravagant, or it can be very modest. Learning to remember what we have and appreciate the things we have achieved and attained will help us as we place our marker which we do not desire to surpass.
Scott Russell Sanders writes about having a true sense of appreciation for Earth in his letter to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two. The advice he gives is what he constantly tells his children, and how he tries to live his life. The passage from his letter that I love about the planet is, “Remember that the Earth, with its manifold life, is primary, and we are secondary. The Earth precedes us and will out last us.” In this quote Sanders is talking about how devastating we can be towards the planet when we live self-centered lifestyles and forget about life outside of ourselves. Sanders continues, “The Earth has made us possible, and moment by moment it sustains us.”
What I take from this quote is the importance of having a true appreciation for everything on the planet. Earth has provided us with nature, beautiful mountains, life sustaining rivers, and majestic coasts, but Earth has also given us places to build cities, the materials needed to surround ourselves in sheltered homes, and more. For Sanders the important idea when we reflect on the Earth is the ability to make considerations about what is good for the planet. When we only think of ourselves and are unwilling to make sacrifices to that will in the long run benefit the planet, we begin to damage the world we live in.
I don’t think that Sanders is asking us to abandon our well lit homes or get rid of our cars, but he is simply reminding us that we do not control the Earth as much as we like to believe we do. His quote is more of a call to awareness than a call to action. What Sanders is hoping we understand is that taking care of the planet, or at least making more decisions with the longterm health of the planet in mind, will help it sustain us for much longer. The more we begin to appreciate Earth and understand how it provides what we need for life, the more likely we are to begin taking part in actions to clean and protect our planet.