I think I’ve had a pretty charmed life so far. It’s not perfect of course, but I’m thankful for what I have and the opportunities that I’ve been given. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, so why do I feel guilty sometimes for the life that I lead?
To paint the picture, I’m a thirty-something woman with a relatively secure and well-paying job, and have a property that I partly own (but is mostly owned by the bank). I’ve travelled to some far flung places around the globe and can afford to go on an overseas trip every year. I eat out when I want, have a great circle of friends, a supportive family, and I’m in good physical health.
On the flip side, I’m a thirty-something woman yet to find a dream career that is deeply satisfying, I am still unmarried and yet to experience the wonderful joys of parenthood (well, my girlfriends swear that it’s wonderful!), and did I mention that I have a hefty mortgage?
Despite these areas where the checkboxes remain unchecked or where improvement is needed, I am generally happy with my lot. However, sometimes I feel guilty about having a pretty easy life compared to other people, not only those in Australia but also the rest of the world. I know that there are people under mortgage stress, or trying to raise three kids on a single income. Some people have to care for an ill or disabled family member full-time with little financial support. And while I’m dealing with “first world problems” such as how desperately I need a tan or that my local cafe has upped the price of my daily soy cappuccino, there are people around the world that have no access to clean drinking water, that are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, or are victims of famine and drought.
Having travelled to many developing countries around the world and seeing the simple lives of others, I am fully aware of how fortunate I am just to have been born in a first-world country such as Australia. We have a first-rate health system, education that is free for all, good employment prospects, and the freedom to practice your religion (or non-religion). We have a welfare safety net that supports people that can’t find work or just can’t work due to disability, there are laws protecting us against exploitation, and no one lives in extreme poverty as they do in the undeveloped world.
Yes, this dumb luck at having born in Australia is a source of my guilt. Sponsoring two children through World Vision is my way of alleviating some of this guilt, and there is certainly more that I could do to help, but feeling guilt for something that was beyond your control is not a way to live your life.
For those of us that are living in the developed world, there are always going to be people that are materially better off than us and those that are worse off than us. It’s in our nature to compare what we have to what others have. We may be envious of those with flash sports cars and waterfront mansions, and feel sympathetic towards those that can’t afford the little luxuries that we can.
However these comparisons of material assets is dangerous, because it can make us resent others, but it can also misleading. Those who are rich in assets aren’t necessarily rich in love or experiences. That guy with the latest model bow rider speed boat may be working crazy hours with the stress of hanging onto his job, and that glamorous lady with the oversized Louis Vuitton handbag may be living a lonely life with few friends. But the office cleaner that empties our bins after hours may have a loving relationship with his wife and two happy, healthy young children.
We should be thankful for whatever we have our lives, take time to nurture our relationships, and stop comparing ourselves to other people. We should also be trying our best in all of our endeavours, be proud of everything that we have achieved, and we shouldn’t feel guilty if we have worked hard to get to where we are. Most of all, we have the power to change our lives for the better, and we should give generously to those in countries that don’t.
* Image courtesy of stock.xchng