How I Learned To Appreciate Life

Posted on September 1, 2012


I’ve often wondered about what it would be like to get rid of most of my stuff and own next to nothing. How would it feel? Would I feel empty? Scared? Or would I feel relieved?

It was my last day in Seville and I decided to go for one last “wander” with my new friend Harry. Due to the extreme heat of the previous days (about 49 °C) I hadn’t seen as much of the city as I would have liked, so I decided to make the most of these last couple hours. Together we explored stunning, beautiful Seville.

We walked through the narrow streets of the Santa Cruz neighborhood, listened to an amazing street musician next to the Alcazar gardens and tried to pick fresh oranges straight from the trees. Through tiny city parks, we made our way to the river Guadalquivir, where we sat down for a sip of water and talked about life.

We agreed that the Spanish culture seemed warm and welcoming, much more so than the environment either of us grew up in. What a shame it is, I thought, that I couldn’t find that same sense of life, Spain is so rich of, in the eyes of people walking the streets back in Holland. Compared to all the energy, colors and beauty that Seville so proudly boasts, everything back home just seemed chilly and grey. I realize this also has a lot to do with the climate, of course, but even more so, it is a certain state of mind. I find that while the Dutch spend their time working hard to get higher up, while they feel like they have to fall into a certain norm, the people of Seville just take life as it comes, enjoying every moment and take time to appreciate matters such as food and music, the very essence of life. This atmosphere immediately made me feel at home, a feeling I often miss in my home country. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side…

We tried to find our way back to the hostel, which proved to be a little more difficult than we initially thought. Both of us being firm believers in travelling without a map (unless necessary of course), we took pleasure in getting lost and roaming the streets in search of something familiar. After a while we stumbled upon a tiny, quiet plaza and took a moment to catch our breath, sitting down across from 3 men who appeared to be homeless. One of them came over and politely asked us for a cigarette.

He did not speak a word of English, and yet, during the conversation that followed we understood him perfectly. Though he looked like he had no job or even a roof over his head, I did not pity him. Looking back on it now, I think it must have been because he looked happier than most people I know who have almost everything. He looked like someone who didn’t waste much time worrying about trivial matters, but knew how to appreciate the little things instead. He told us that he had a good life; he could sleep in the open and watch the stars every night. He played the flute and could depend on the kindness and generosity of others, so he was never hungry. Whenever he’s cold, he makes himself a fire and whenever he’s hot, he’d go for a swim in the river. He travelled around Spain he said, not allowing himself to be weighed down by material things. He seemed content, and his happiness inspired me to review my own life.

Was I truly happy? Had I accomplished anything so far? How do I identify myself? It’s not the closet full of clothes that takes up the majority of space in my bedroom, nor is it the money I earn or the name I made for myself.

It’s memories, experiences and the fact that I don’t take everything for granted. If this man was able to enjoy life as it is and be genuinely happy, I thought, there is no excuse for me to be discontent. I’m not naive, I know that it would be a less than ideal situation not to have a place I can call home, at least, for now. But I also realize that surrounding myself with too many “things” would have a suffocating effect on me and distract me from the things that are really important.

I have everything I need and even better; the freedom to go wherever I please. While I wouldn’t even qualify for lower middle class back home, I realize that this is a luxury that most people could never afford, as much as they’d want to.
We said goodbye to our new friend and continued our search for the hostel. Along the way I counted my blessings and felt eternally grateful for everything life had handed me so far and everything that was still to come. “Such a beautiful thing, life” I thought, as we walked past the plaza that lies next to our temporary home.