As is the norm this time of year, most of us are contemplating the many ways we are blessed. And we are blessed. In the grand scheme of the human experience, most of us have it pretty good. We have roofs over our heads, gas in our furnaces, food in our refrigerators, and hot water in our showers. As the common internet meme goes, our problems are “first world problems”. So it is appropriate during this Thanksgiving time to truly reflect upon the privileged lives we so often take for granted.

However, despite our many blessings, sometimes there is a deep yearning for more. Not more money or stuff. Not even more time. If we truly evaluate our deepest desires we find that we long not for more material things but for the immaterial, the intangible. We search for meaning in a life that, while privileged, sometimes seems devoid of meaning. And so, in frustration with a life of seemingly meaningless toil, we contemplate the big change. Winning the lotto. Quitting a job. Pursuing the vocation of our dreams. Withdrawing from the rat race and living off the land. Maybe some of us even fantasize about becoming a real life Walter White, a man who escaped his seemingly pathetic life to build an illicit empire before it all came crashing down around him. While the big change is exciting to fantasize about, it isn’t necessarily the only, or even best, way to enhance our lives.

In the most recent episode of On Taking Pictures [1] , Jeffery Saddoris mentioned the idea that finding meaning in one’s life is not a matter of swinging the pendulum but of twisting the kaleidoscope. Swinging the pendulum is the big change — the lifestyle U-turn, the upstanding teacher turned drug kingpin, the mega-millions win. Twisting the kaleidoscope is the small change — the minor adjustments that completely change the way we see the world and our lives within it. This isn’t to say that our happiness and fulfillment is all in our mind. While an attitude change may be all that is warranted in pursuit of a more fulfilled life, some of us could benefit from real, concrete change. But that change doesn’t necessarily need to be a wholesale shift from our current trajectory. There is a big difference between a U-turn and a subtle course correction.

So this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful for the enormous privilege I enjoy. I am grateful to have a wonderful family and a job that supports us. I am grateful that I live in a relatively large house that is well heated and filled with amazing technology that was science fiction only a few decades ago. I am grateful for the food in my refrigerator and the ability to go out if nothing in the refrigerator appeals to me. I am grateful for my first world problems. And while I am reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for, I will also be contemplating what little shifts could make my life even better — more fulfilled, more meaningful. How can I twist the kaleidoscope of my life to leave a more lasting mark on the world making this a better place? Perhaps I need to twist just a little. Perhaps I need to twist 180 degrees. Either way, I am grateful for where I am and I am excited for what comes next. After all, part of the joy of the kaleidoscope is the surprise that comes when you give it a twist.

  1. Since discovering On Taking Pictures several months ago, it has quickly become my favorite photography podcast. Jeffery Saddoris and co-host Bill Wadman aren’t afraid to delve into the deeper issues of what makes art great and how the process of creating art makes for a meaningful life. This isn’t the superficial gear centric podcast you might be used to — and it is better for it.  ↩

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