Thursday, November 24, 2016

On Gratitude

Remember when you were younger and adults would say annoying, untrue things like, "time flies" or "I can't believe it's almost Christmas!" And you would think to yourself, "Are you kidding me!? There are TWO MONTHS until Christmas. How will I LIVE?" Well here we are; it's Thanksgiving week 2016. And my mind is blown. I find myself shocked that events from earlier in the year - my sister's wedding, baby showers, vacations, my engagement - simultaneously seem like forever ago and yesterday all at once. Really my entire adult life feels like that. I just turned 21, I could swear it. 

via GIPHY (Friends Thanksigiving episodes never get old!)

On Thanksgiving this year, I have a somewhat different perspective on gratitude which makes me particularly (and poignantly) grateful to celebrate this holiday. While dealing with some personal challenges earlier this year, I was doing a lot of searching for the ever elusive "happiness" that everyone on your Instagram and Facebook feeds seems to have but you. I wasn't traveling to Europe or buying a house or having a baby or looking effortlessly chic at all social functions, as it would seem everyone else was doing. I like things to go according to plan. I like to follow the rules. And so when life isn't pretty or doesn't align with the image I have in my head, I struggle. During this struggle, I read a lot about how gratitude improves happiness. And I was most certainly not happy. So I did something unprecedented. Rather than simply read about how to improve my life on the internet, I acted on it. And guess what? Those people at Harvard are pretty damn smart. 

Throughout the course of the year, I have really focused on improving my gratitude. I started by looking for books on how to practice gratitude and I stumbled upon My Little Gratitude Journal. The premise behind this tool is comically simple: write down 3 things you are grateful for from the day before you go to bed. We're talking bullet points, not even sentences. Even on the shittiest of days, I could find something to write down. And I was surprised to find myself listing four or six or eight bullets on many days. "Relaxing night watching TV." "Catching up with old friend via FaceTime." "Taking a walk outside." "Reading on the porch." "A fridge full of food." "Strong legs and lungs that powered me through my run." "The guy who let me cut over in traffic." "Getting a manicure." "Nabbing an awesome parking spot in a crowded parking lot." "Singing along to a great song on the radio." "A great glass (or bottle) of wine." Slowly but surely, this practice helped me to make gratitude a habit. Laying in bed at night and ending the day with positive thoughts and a grateful heart, rather than anxiously running through everything that had gone wrong today or I had to do tomorrow, helped me sleep better. And eventually it made my days better too. I began to catch myself saying quick prayers of gratitude throughout the day - noticing and appreciating these small, joyful moments when they happened. 

Am I Mary Poppins all day every day? Absolutely not. I get sad and mad and down. I get anxious. But I'm appreciating that this is life, and if you can't find opportunities to be grateful in the hustle and bustle and ups and downs, you're going to miss your chance at happiness. I loved this quote from Jennifer Garner earlier this year when she spoke to Vanity Fair:

"It's also what my mother has instilled in my sisters and me so much, that joy comes from the smallest things. And if you don't see joy in a perfect avocado or in a great conversation or in running into a friend or getting a job - if you don't see joy in a perfectly beautiful tree in autumn - then you are missing your chance at happiness. Because if you don't find it in the small things and you only wait for big moments, then you'll just not be a happy person."

While gratitude and gratitude alone is great for many, I also had the love and support of wonderful friends and family, sought out an excellent therapist and turned to medication to get me through this year. Through all of this, I am so grateful that I learned this lesson: seeking help or self-improvement is not a weakness or a fault. In fact it is the opposite of that. It takes great courage to raise your hand and admit that you are struggling and you can't do this alone. And you're not designed to. Hindsight is 20/20, so please, take this from me. And if not from me, from Selena Gomez. "If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken."

I don't share all this to say that I've found the key to happiness, or that I have it all figured out because who the hell does? If anything, this journey has made me realize that no one does. Our lives may not look the same, our journeys may not look the same and our struggles may not look the same. But rest assured, we all struggle. (This realization in itself is something to be grateful for - you are not alone!) 

And so this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for gratitude. More than ever, I am grateful for having the love and support of my people when I struggle. I am grateful for having the courage to say I needed help. I am grateful for having access to mental health resources. I am so grateful to those who have shared their mental health struggles with the world or with me personally. I am humbled by and grateful for the unconditional love and patience my fianc─Ś showed me when I felt so anxious and broken. I am grateful that going through this with him demonstrated that we are strong and solid and can do tough shit together as a team. I am grateful for the strength and vulnerability it took to write and publish this blog post (even though twelve people read this blog). I am grateful for the increased empathy I have for others and for a true understanding of the saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I am grateful for another full year of life - the good and the bad. I am grateful for the moments in my day that give me pause and allow me to take in the beauty all around me. The sound of a loved one's laughter. A tree vibrant with fall color.  A perfect cup of coffee. I am grateful for a year filled with people I love and full of personal growth. I'm even grateful for the day-to-day minutia of life. Laundry and work deadlines and oil changes. Without these things vacation days and dinners out and fun times with friends would not be so great. 

Most importantly (chances are, if you are reading this you are probably in my inner circle), I am also so grateful for YOU! For all the joy and support you bring to my life - from the bottom of my heart - Thank you. 

Happy Thanksgiving! xoxo

1 comment:

  1. Jules- I love this post. It is so refreshing in its complete honesty. It's a conversation that I've been having with my Mom this past year, and we've talked about it too! I'm going to try writing down my gratitudes too.