Appreciation

We think of appreciation as a quality we already possess and argue to ourselves that the only reason we are not experiencing it is because (unfortunately) we lack the necessary things in life that are worthy of it.

Sure, while we may possess, let’s say, the ability to appreciate, abilities themselves can be developed, expanded, heightened and improved. Perhaps what we are lacking are not things worthy of appreciation, but the will and imagination to see how what we have is already deserving of the appreciation we designate to other (more grandiose and fantastic) things.

We can find ourselves being unappreciative for what we have because our sights are set (often much farther away) on things we do not. We fill our hearts and minds with things that are absent. Of course we cannot appreciate what is here, because we are looking at what is over there. We want to adventure around Macedonia, attend events rich with euphoria and bonhomie, and live in a decadent property with marble bench-tops and spiral columns. We tell ourselves that we would rather be there because here is so thoroughly dull, stupid and unworthy of appreciation.

But sometimes, something surprising happens. You chance upon an old photograph of your family and you at the local beach from your childhood, or you see your mum cooking dinner for the family on your regular-not-so-marble bench-top, or you look down and see your scruffy little dog wagging his tail and rubbing his head against your leg asking for a pat. A warm feeling rushes over you and you are faced with a new and perhaps rather counter-intuitive thought: you are already quite rich. There is so much for you to already appreciate. The problem was not that we lacked what we wanted, but that we were unable to draw succour and satisfaction from what we already have.

Simple Things, Carlos Reales, 2014.

Following in the stead of painters such as Manet and Vermeer, Reales is celebrating the unexotic but heart warming satisfactions of daily life. The bread, lovingly prepared, has just come out of the overn and will surely be delightfully crunchy. The jug, while plain, is sturdy. It was perhaps bought by a craftsman who made it with care and affection. The items sit upon a varnished table passed down thorugh generations. While it may not be a celebration of excess like Dutch Pronkstilleven, it is a celebration of simplicity. Reales is communicating to us that even simple pleasures are worthy of veneration, and when taken from the background and made objects of attention, can be beautiful in their own right. Context can change how we appreciate something, as can familiarity.

If I place my hand on your leg, while you may feel it initially, after some time the feeling of my hand disappears and you will only realise its presence once I remove it. This holds true for so many things in life. We ‘get used to’ our parents, our pets, our friends; to warm hugs, kind text messages, and the songs of birds. They move from the foreground to the background, from objects of amazement to simply the fabric of our life. Usually, it is only when they disappear, when a parent dies or an ex leaves you that you realise how much joy they gave you. Like the hand leaving the leg, we often do not realise what we had until it is gone. One of the greatest obstacles to appreciation, therefore, is that we ‘get used to’ the things in our lives and fail to meet them with fresh eyes.

Krishnamurti implored people to ‘die to yesterday’ every single day so that the mind is always ‘fresh, vital, and alive’. There is hardly better advice for cultivating appreciation than his. Because we become familiar, we no longer appreciate the value of a good morning text the way we first did. However, if we can wipe the slate clean, if we can practice ‘defamiliarisation’ than these small things in life take on the importance that they properly deserve.

We have this mistaken belief that appreciating what we already have, like a loving but sometimes grouchy mother, or a soft breeze coming through a window, would be a type of second-best in life, accepting that we will never have a fancy car or a first-class trip to Macedonia. But there is no reason why appreciating what we have will delete the will or effort to have something else. We should simply practice awareness of how rich our life already is. You are already rich in so many ways, and if you cannot appreciate it now, you will be no better equipped to appreciate it when you have a slightly faster car, or more marble-laden bench-top.

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