Guest Post: Pleasure and Pain in Paris

Guest Post: Pleasure and Pain in Paris
By Shannon Guy
In Paris, like most major cities around the world, there are homeless people. Homeless people sleeping in tattered, unwashed sleeping bags outside the bottom of buildings where apartments cost upwards of a million euros. The contrast between the differing experiences of the human condition is something that guide books never write about.

A recent weekend in Paris with a friend prompted plenty of discussion, extending into a broader discussion on the state of humanity. Superficiality. Violence. Greed. Poverty. What can we do to change things? How can we live with a clean conscience while others can't feed themselves, their families, protect them from war and violence?

I guess there is no easy answer to this. The solution probably starts with little acts of kindness. Checking in on a neighbour. Helping an elderly person cross the road safely or putting their groceries in the car. Talking to someone doing it tough on the street. Giving your time to someone, to listen to their problems, without judgement. Writing a letter to a prisoner. Smiling at a checkout assistant. Thanking someone.

One of the easiest ways to be happy is to make others happy, to give time or money or support to others. But too often we get caught up in what we want, what will make us happy? To live in a new country? To buy a bigger house? To earn more money? To leave our partner for a life, free and single, that we believe will be preferable?

Often, the problem is that we're not taking enough happiness from the life that we're already blessed with. We are not enjoying what our own country has to offer, choosing instead to become part of the rat race; commuting, working, commuting, watching TV, sleeping. We are not enjoying the home we have, the joyful memories that we've made in the house. We are wanting to buy more, but for what?

Clothes that will be worn three times, probably fabricated by children working horrendous hours in dubious conditions; TVs that we'll waste more time in front of; cars that will cost us more in repairs and maintenance than they're worth?

We are not investing time in maintaining our relationship, in discovering new things together, in taking enjoyment from a simple night's conversation discussing the highs and lows of our day, in supporting each other through the difficult times and in receiving support, in telling each other how much they mean to us and for thanking them for the small things.

We need to be grateful for what we've got. Then we need to think about something, anything, that we can do once a day to make the life of someone else a little bit better. And then do it. Anyone reading this will have the capacity for that.

I came back from Paris more grateful. To see the dichotomy, to have it thrust in my face as it is when a homeless person approaches to ask for money for food, is confronting but ultimately something that improves us as humans, if we allow it to. We can't stop people from dying of hunger or violence or in war, but we can be content in what we have, to thank our Mum and Dad, and perhaps extend ourselves to share a little of our own good fortune in whichever way we can.

Shannon Guy is a 29-year-old Aussie expat living in Champagne, France, who writes the blog La Vie Francaise and contributes to My French Life.