Not long ago, while watching a science channel, I caught part of a TV special focused on our solar system. It was fascinating. One thing I was struck by was our great fortune in finding ourselves precisely where we happen to be.
As it turns out, we inhabit an extraordinarily narrow band of life-sustaining space. A little closer or farther from the sun, and our planet would be as barren as its neighbors.
Additionally, our solar system just happens to be in an unusually calm and quiet region of the Milky Way — one of the few places that is spared continual turbulence. A tiny bit closer to or farther from its center, and we’d almost certainly have been wiped out by an onslaught of asteroids long ago.
Finally, there’s our fortunate place in time. As far as we know, at no time in Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history has such a high quality of life been available to so many.
Yet, it must also be acknowledged that vast and increasing inequities remain. The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has grown disconcertingly wide. Far too many suffer uncertain access to essentials like food, water, shelter, and basic security.
Moreover, a great deal of the abundance we currently enjoy has come, at least in part, as the result of leveraging and overleveraging our nonrenewable natural resources, including fossil fuels. We are only beginning to perceive and understand what some of the associated costs of this dependency will be to our planet, ecosystems, and human communities.
Clearly, both the pace and scope of our current consumption is neither sustainable nor wise. And so, while our position in space and history certainly give us a great deal to be grateful for, it should also give us reason for pause.
Indeed, we would all do well to thoughtfully consider both our current circumstances and the road ahead. What do we have, and what do we really need, to be happy and well?
In my own reflections, there are three perspectives I like to keep in mind:
1. Gratitude: We are all truly blessed, at minimum, with our life force and with the opportunity to live on this planet and at this time in history. If you are reading this, chances are high that you fall into an especially lucky group — one with the good fortune to be concerned primarily with what are often referred to as “first-world problems.” Even if you are facing dire challenges, it’s worth remembering just how much you have at your disposal. It’s important to acknowledge the resources and support to which you have access, and the meaningful, potentially transformative choices that are within your reach.
2. Consciousness: In order to fully appreciate what we have, we must first acknowledge that it could just as easily be otherwise. Virtually everything we enjoy in our lifetimes is dependent on a thousand variables and relationships we tend to ignore or take for granted. Consider how many people regularly go without the things you never have to worry about, and you will be humbled. Become conscious of the responsibilities with which your good fortune endows you, and you will become more inspired to appreciate and give your greatest gifts.
3. Preparedness: The world we live in now is both unpredictable and volatile. Changes — technological, environmental, social — are occurring at an increasingly fast pace, and with increasingly complex outcomes. While it is impossible to adequately prepare for every possible scenario, it makes sense to mentally and emotionally prepare for change in general. Undoubtedly, some of the changes we’ll face over the coming decades will be challenging; others will be hopeful and encouraging. Developing skills and perspectives that build resilience, flexibility, and creativity will stand you in good stead in all cases.
Should you ever feel you are losing your center or sense of perspective, I have one other piece of advice: Take a moment to go out at night in a place where you can still see the stars. Look up. Remember that you are part of something so much larger.
Sometimes, simply connecting with our own place within this immense universe of ours is all it takes to help us explore our challenges and blessings from a whole new point of view.