Why Proust Knew Gratitude Was The Answer

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Marcel Proust was a writer, author and spiritual thinker in the early 20th century. His most famous work, In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu) is known for being the longest novel ever written - and its radical views on life.

Proust is really interesting to me, because he started out life just like anyone else of his day. He was brought up in rather violent surroundings, during the consolidation of the French Third Republic, but despite this, his parents being well educated people provided him with the best opportunities to learn. His father was a leading pathologist who studied cholera, and helped many people learn about hygiene in order to keep the disease at bay. Inspired by this, Proust sought to help humanity with his novels.

The main concept he shared? Gratitude. 

The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

Proust came to understand many key facets of life through the lens of gratitude. He saw how many of the pitfalls of life could be avoided if one was grateful. 

Gratitude for Our Circumstances

The first was gratitude for one's initial circumstances. We may look around ourselves early in life and think 'what am I doing here, did I really choose these circumstances?'. Proust grew up in an upper middle class household, and found as he grew that being high up in society was shallow if one was looking for complete fulfillment in socializing and keeping up appearances. He asks us not to seek to escape our current circumstances in order to be somewhere else that is more perfect or would make us happier, but rather, to be happy where we are right now. Proust knew that happiness was not found somewhere else, it is found within ourselves, through gratitude for our initial circumstances.

Gratitude for Ourselves

The second important observation Proust makes is that gratitude for the self (or self love) in vitally important to one's sense of security. In the novel, the protagonist spends a lot of time chasing after a woman. The fluttering of the heart in love is all the protagonist wants to live for. Proust illustrates that when we are looking for love, we are really looking for someone else to love us completely as we are. We are aiming to substitute loving ourselves, with the distraction of someone else's love. In the end, Proust helps us to see that no one else will 'complete' us. We must complete ourselves through our own self love - being grateful for ourselves. We must accept ourselves completely as we are. This way, when we do share our lives with someone else, we are able to enjoy the other's company and companionship, without relying on them to mend our own insecurities. 

Gratitude for Life

The final observation about life Proust makes is that life can be enjoyed to the fullest, if we are grateful for each moment as it is. Proust saw people becoming depressed in the higher ranks of society, because they were always searching for more. The aristocrats would never be satisfied with what they had, or the circumstances in which they were in, because of their detachment from the present moment. Proust saw that children, who are innately grateful for everything, were always happy with whatever they had, whether it was deemed significant or not. By aiming to see the world with new eyes, Proust found a very eastern way to see the world, and ultimately, change his perception.

Gratitude for the simple things in life ultimately enriches one's experience of life itself.