Humans get in their own way a lot. I’ve been surprised recently by how easy it is to fall into complacency and expectation. How readily we forget how privileged we are and how much we have to be thankful for. In the lead-up to this year away; the months of planning and packing, hysterical late night chatter and nervous morning butterflies, we assumed that our excitement and gratitude for the adventure we were embarking on would always be there to fuel our enthusiasm; that the whole year would be a day-to-day study in technicoloured wonder (think Dorothy arriving in Oz – a full romp down the yellow-brick road complete with songs and the odd spontaneous dance number). So we were all a little surprised when we kind of stalled; when our appetite for exploration and adventure fizzled out for a while and was replaced by a weird, lazy complacency that had us all feeling grumpy and tired. Our slow mornings became slower. Often we weren’t getting out of the house until gone lunchtime, by which point everyone was teetering on the edge of a bad mood and not at all sure they wanted to go out anyway.
Here we were, 10 minutes away from Split, bathed in sunshine, literally tripping over history everywhere we went, and yet our mood was lacklustre at best. We still managed some wonderful experiences, but our momentum seemed to have disappeared. It’s got me thinking about human factors and how we will always find a way to turn the extraordinary into the norm. I remember asking Frank once if he wanted to go sky-diving for his birthday. When he said no, it was because he’d done a lot of it during adventure training in the military and well, as he put it, “anything becomes less exciting if you do it all the time.” Realistically, I know our rutt was triggered by some bad chicken that took a little while to recover from and some communication from the RAF that sent Frank into a bit of a twirl for a couple of days. Just normal life stuff that interrupted the dream and settled in like a heavy old blanket – putting us to sleep under its dusty, familiar weight. I’m pleased to report that we snapped out of it, and we’re back to marching up mountains and marvelling at everything we can find within a drivable distance from our little apartment.
I have to say though, it bothers me a lot. That we can so easily forget how extraordinary this experience is. That we have all of this time with our kids, all of this freedom and opportunity and we can still have days where we feel fed-up or hard-done-by. But then, even before all this it was there. I’m positive everyone else feels it too. That need to have more than you have. Desperately trying to keep up with your peers by getting the right house, the right stuff to fill it with, the right car, the right clothes. And what happens when you get them? Do the heavens burst open with song and rainbows while angels descend to bestow eternal happiness on your hard working shoulders? No. Of course not. The happiness lasts mere moments or days before it becomes your new normal, all the while the next ‘right thing’ is already lining itself up in your periphery. Everyone gets caught by it – I know we did. We bought our first house and lived with pretty grim second-(maybe fiftieth)-hand furniture for years; walking on carpet tiles that looked like they’d have been new when Alexander the Great was still in action. We were pretty happy with our shabby-but-comfortable existence for a really long time until we got caught in it. I’m sure there was a probably a payrise involved and talk of updating certain things – but before we knew it, we had over-stretched ourselves with a new car, a new bed, several arty pieces to decorate the walls with and the world’s most uncomfortable sofa from DFS (which, incidentally we’re still paying for despite no longer owning).
I guess then, that this is our new normal. And while I’d love to think we’re impervious to falling back into old habits and attitudes, we’re most definitely not.
So we’re practicing some proactive gratitude at the moment, to try to counterbalance the constant threat of complacency. It’s very difficult to look around here and think not enough. It’s near impossible to count the ways in which we’re lucky and not immediately feel like a giant arse for ever having a second where we feel anything less than full and complete gratitude.