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Carpe Diem and Gratitude Through Museums

Visiting a social history museum can you help your gratitude thinking.

The concept of gratitude is an important idea in a modern world where people are surrounded by a “more, more, more” culture of consumerism. Industrialisation has made it easier for humans to take everyday things for granted because many people don’t have to farm their own food or tend their own livestock. Instead of spending months toiling away at a field, grateful for the harvest, people spend minutes ordering a home-delivery supermarket shop as they frown about the next thing. However, it is good to think about people grateful that the rain rained, and that the crops grew, and to not take the basics in life for granted, because many years ago that was the daily reality for the majority of the population. Their happiness relied on fulfilling what people now think of as the basics of life – eating, drinking, and keeping warm. If you want an easy, practical way of reflecting on gratitude, visit a social history museum.

If you want to enhance your gratitude thinking, try and visit a museum that shows you how people lived in the past. For example, in England, there are lots of delightful local history museums across the country which show you how people lived and worked. Some are run by councils, and others are run by volunteers who archive items, pieces of art, and stories on behalf of contributors. Really good museums recreate scenes from history, showing you how people lived, ate, cooked, farmed, and socialised. You can see what people wore, what their homes looked like, and how difficult the basics were for them – from finding food to keeping dry or warm. In fact, clothes, which many in the modern world take for granted, were so expensive that many people had very few garments to their name. When they tore or wore out, they did not throw them out, as many do today, but they mended them.

Some museums go even further, showing you how everyday items have changed in time, and it is a fascinating journey in gratitude. You can see how far modern society has come. For example, making bread or butter was once an arduous task, and the daily diet for many was once bread and water – rarely meat. That was even before wartime food rationing, where people were entitled to a slither of meat for a whole week, and Anderson shelters where families squeezed under corrugated iron structures. Visiting a museum can feel more real than watching a documentary or film about the same things because you can see the items, and sometimes read stories about real people who lived at the time.

Looking at what shops looked like centuries ago, and what kitchens, and dining tables held to be eaten, is a great exercise in realising how fortunate many people are in the modern world. Instead of huffing about the material things that you don’t have, think about what you would have felt like to live in the 1800s, or early 1900s, and what your priorities would have been at the time compared to now. Back then, many people in countries that have tough winters suffered from being bitterly cold for months, and many people worked very long hours with little time off each week.

Be grateful if the modern world has freed up time for you not to spend your days cultivating food and tending livestock, giving you time to explore your interests. Don’t waste your time worrying about things that are not going to matter hundreds of years from now, such as scrolling social media endlessly and wasting your days commenting on pointless things on the internet. Ask yourself: do you want to be someone who makes a difference to your family or community, or do you want to waste the advancements in technology, science and art that have enabled you to have that free time?

The next time you want to reflect on gratitude, visit a social history museum, realise how fortunate you are to live in the modern world, and seize the day.

More from Caroline Kamau Ph.D.
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