Learning to Appreciate

“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things”–Henry Ward Beecher

 

Can you force yourself to appreciate something?
Or is it perhaps a verb that can only truly be set into motion after the fact?
When I look at my calendar I become horrified to realize how little time I have left in London.  Sure there are still quite a few months ahead of me but I would be fooling myself if I didn’t recognize how quickly they’ll go by.  Truthfully, I still feel like it’s mid-January not mid-March.  At the end of next month my formal classes will be over and 2/3 of my MA program will have already been completed.
Part of me is happy that when my time here concludes I will be back with my friends and family in the U.S. and will be surrounded once again by familiar things and small comforts.  Another part of me looks at each passing day and thinks that my time to enjoy London is withering and that I need to savor each and every moment.
I felt very much the same way when I was in Africa.  Certainly considering that my time during both trips to South Africa and Malawi was much less than the year I’ve dedicated to London and Europe it would seem appropriate that I felt the urgency to ‘live like it’s your last day’.  This time is different though.
When you’re in a certain place for a short amount of time you definitely try to savor every foreign detail and admire each language, culture, cuisine, etc.  It becomes much more difficult to appreciate those kinds of things when the foreign starts to become the familiar.  The problem lies in that when you think you have all the time in the world to see something you tend to give it a lesser priority than other seemingly more urgent matters.  I realize how incredibly vapid that previous sentence is but I can’t help but think that we all still seem to ignore that sad fact.
Sometimes when I have some empty space in my calendar, I pull up a map of London on Google Maps and pick a neighborhood of the city that I haven’t yet been to.  I’ll hop on the tube and in less than an hour’s time I’ll be there snapping photos of whatever new landscape I happen to find myself in.
The most recent past example was last week when I decided to go to Bethnal Green and Stratford in East London.  I won’t go into too much detail about the areas themselves (I’ll just say that it’s clear that West London is much nicer than the East) but I want to stress how important it is to not take what you have for advantage.  Walking around I quickly started to think “O this is kind of like that part of that place I went to’ and I had to stop myself.  It was not the same as places I’ve already been to.  Pausing to listen to the city I could hear the distinct bite of the East London cockney accent.  I could notice the drastic demographic differences from other places.  The items that were being sold in the shops differed from what I would normally expect.  It was then that I felt that I could appreciate this area for what it was.  It doesn’t have to be my new favorite place and I don’t have to recommend it to everyone who comes to London but by taking some time out of my day I was now capable of appreciating it.
It’s a hard thing to do however.  I know that, in all likeliness, by this time next year I’ll be sitting in a chair thinking about how I should’ve done this when I was there or I should’ve gone there when I had the opportunity.  These kinds of regret are common to us all and it serves as additional motivation to enjoy something while you can.
This is the point in the blog update that I try and tie all of my thoughts together and arrive at some sort of insightful conclusion.  I’m not sure this post really needs that though.  I think the point seems to be obvious.
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