Sometimes it’s not easy to recognize the things in life that deserve gratitude. When life is smooth sailing, everything can become so repetitive, so routine, that you almost operate on autopilot. You come to expect things will be a certain way and forget that nothing is actually promised or guaranteed. The bottom can fall out at any time. Most of us have experienced or seen that happen to someone, and it doesn’t always make sense why. It doesn’t have to I guess.
On the flip side, when you’re going through a particularly tough time, it’s unsurprisingly hard to find reasons to be appreciative. Most people have endured a “When it rains it pours” time in their life, and usually during the rain, it feels like some kind of cosmic punishment. It’s not exactly easy to take a few minutes of stillness and consider the things and people you’re grateful for when life is kicking your proverbial ass. And yet there are always things, always people, rare moments or a single act of kindness that if you think long enough, will start to emerge. If nothing pops up, keep thinking. It will come.
I wouldn’t count this year as one of my easier ones or best in health. There’s been a lot of learning and experiences that I wouldn’t write on my “List of Pleasantries” if I had a “List of Pleasantries.” There has been pain and heartache and a lot of feeling lost. But I know that even among all that, when I take even a minute, once a day, and write down the things I’m thankful for, I am less likely to get pulled in or lost in my ‘story’. I have to continually remind myself of the good things in my life and the people I am lucky enough to love and be loved by. Some days it’s easier to remember than others.
It’s not a denial of pain, which requires its own outlet. It’s just a deeper look beyond the surface of larger things at work. It’s seeing things and people in the spaces, the gaps, the small pocket of happiness you might have missed before. My more challenging experiences this year have actually illuminated the ways I’m fortunate and I have felt more gratitude now than at any other time of my life. It’s almost counterintuitive, I wouldn’t have expected that. But pain can do all kinds of things, it’s a shame it has to hurt so much. Jeesh.
Expressing gratitude has surprised me in how it shapes my outlook when I keep it in mind. I’m always trying to at least identify one thing to be thankful for. Even if its “I’m grateful this crappy day is over,” it’s still acknowledging something that encourages growth, momentum, that phrase I’m always repeating in my head: Keep going. Keep going.
I don’t write this as though these things are easy. It doesn’t take much for me to slip down the rabbit hole of feeling bitter about where I am in my life, about being the age I am and still requiring help, at not getting the life back that I had before. I miss my friends. I miss wearing real clothes. And I become afraid at what my future will be.
Every year that goes by I become more scared that I’ll never be an actual adult. I’ll be in a permanent state of need. I’ll be 80 and my 120 year old mother will be feeding me cream of wheat and we’ll fight over which show to watch. But I don’t like the idea of anger or bitterness being the last things I think of before I fall asleep or when I wake up. So I work hard to see past the outer experience and at what it might be allowing to happen underneath. Being bitter about needing help from your parents can just as easily be gratitude for having parents that are willing to help you. It’s all about perspective, and taking the time to see and acknowledge things on the other side, and there’s always another side.
I think sometimes my mind tries to process my whole existence at once, which is mentally overwhelming. Duh.
It’s OK to acknowledge when things suck, and being sick all the time sucks, we can say it. But it’s really only when I jump into a future I can’t know, when I try to gain control over something that isn’t possible that I get into trouble. Sometimes I find myself stressing about things that may not even happen, or things 20 years down the line. What? I don’t even know what I’m doing in an hour! Here in the present moment, there is space for things like gratitude to exist. When you’re panicking, there’s hardly room to breathe, let alone be thankful that there are montages of people falling on youtube and it made you laugh till you cried.
If I my mind gets too carried away, goes too far down the rabbit hole, I give it a slap on the wrist, a mental spanking. And I tell myself to look. It’s not hard to see that I have the things that matter. If I can just stay present, take things one at a time, which oddly enough is sort of required when you’re sick, I can stay awake. I can still see the things I missed before and treasure simple times. There will be chaos and wreckage and things will fall apart, but it seems like the vital things are always somewhere in the quiet aftermath when you take time for stillness and look. The things that matter are there. I guess they never left in the first place.
My favorite author, Haruki Murikami wrote something pretty incredible that I play over in my mind a lot:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
A pretty simple and beautiful way of considering life, yeah? I think so too. I’m working on not suffering on top of pain. And I have a small but incredible circle of people in my life who help me see what needs seeing or remember what I’ve forgotten in a moment of madness. I am grateful for so much, even when things are hard. It helps to remember.
Health, Happiness, Spank You