When friends ask how traveling in Africa changed me, I offer a lot of different answers. It made me more patient. More frugal. Helped me think through what I want out of life.
But mostly, it made me thankful.
After spending time with people who can’t afford to go to school or visit the doctor or install electricity in their homes, I think about how lucky I am every single day. Every single day.
When I put my head on my pillow at night, I think about how lucky I am to have a comfy bed. When I run a road race, I think about how lucky I am to have sneakers on my feet. When I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I think about how lucky I am to have indoor plumbing, rather than having to stumble outside in the dark and the mud to pee into a hole in the ground.
These thankful thoughts even sneak into my mind when I’m angry or annoyed. When I feel frustrated over coordinating doctor’s visits with my work schedule, I remind myself how lucky I am to see a different doctor for each part of my body. When I groan over delays caused by road construction, I find myself remembering that I’m lucky to live in a place where the roads are actually fixed. When little things go wrong during my day, I can’t help but look at the bright side — that I’ll just move into my apartment one week later or take the next bus or reschedule the interview.
Learning to appreciate what we have is the most cliche lesson of travel — because it’s the most profound. It’s life-changing, this realization that so many people around the world are not eating dinner tonight or drinking clean water or sleeping in a bed. These are things we’re told since childhood — to be thankful for what we have — but it doesn’t hit us until we actually see, with our own eyes, the people who don’t have those same things. It’s not until we travel that we realize that, indeed, the people who live halfway around the globe are just like us, only not as lucky.
I’m a firm believer in making your own luck. In creating the life you want, finding a career you love, and making things happen the way you want them to. But the only reason this works is because we’re all lucky to begin with. No matter how bad of a childhood you had, no matter how negative your family or how stymying your job, every single person reading this blog is luckier than most of the people around the world.
So do something with your luck. Use it to create the life you want to live. And be thankful. Not just on Thanksgiving. Be thankful every day.