“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change ” – Max Planck
I remember when my mom used to tell me to be more grateful for the positive things in my life whenever she’d hear me moan and complain about the ‘woes’ of my life. To the lack of time when juggling various extra-curriculars: “ Well, be grateful you have activities you are passionate about in the first place and have the means to practice them” – or, to the disappointing boiled vegetables that would materialize on my plate for dinner instead of burgers and fries, there was the universal standard, “ Be grateful you have food on your plate – don’t you know that children around the world are starving?! “
Yes, YOU KNOW, what’s new, you’ve heard it before: we’ve all had our moms hound us week after week during our childhoods on being grateful. But though we listened and shut up and ate our gross unsalted, boiled carrots because, well, what can you say to “starving children”, I’ve recently come to realize that very few of us really listened enough to truly reap the benefits of an approach to life based on appreciation. Even worse – it rarely shows up when it counts.
We grow up, move on with our lives, and those little wise remarks transform into funny anecdotes about what parents say when we were being ungrateful Eyes roll.
Perhaps it’s the complexity of the times in which we live – that overload of sensory information and expectations we put on ourselves that’s distracting us from being aware of those precious minutes we get every day. Before we know it, its past midnight, we’ve spent hours in front of our laptops or running in between meetings and multitude of errands and tasks that seem to follow us everywhere – and the day has gone by in a dizzying flash.
A reinforced behavioral pattern set on autopilot – and we usually only wake up for it when we’re crashing.
That’s not to say there’s no awareness: people realize being grateful is a socially attractive characteristic – it’s a moral that has been passed down for generations. But what I’ve seen is that while we talk about how blessed we are, we often times simultaneously fail to miss an opportunity to complain and dramatize when things aren’t to our liking or live up to our expectations. Suddenly we are turning life’s inevitable occurrences into a series of monumental negative events that gnaw at our subconscious. So – we are aware enough to vocalize our blessings once in a while, but not aware enough to keep it up when it truly matters.
This behavior is human – and we are the product of the times in which we live. However, for me, if everything around me hadn’t shattered and been turned upside down, perhaps I’d still be there too, piling stress over stress whilst living a life that could very well have been the envy of many.
In the span of a year, my family lost everything my father had worked his entire life to build, in a country where bankruptcy equals an immediate and extended jail sentence. We were spread across the world as my mother has the soul of a wandering hippy and an equal disregard for responsibility or family values. My siblings were blocked struggling in their respective University countries, so strength through unity was out of the question. Surprise! With the loss of our material means, came the loss of our large circle of ‘friends’ who eventually distanced themselves. And I found myself stuck in the exhausting cycle of save-Dad-work-save Dad.
And then the most magical thing happened.
Instead of curling up in a ball, I breathed life for the first time in my life. The world became beautiful. In between the chaos of keeping myself together, I discovered purpose, ambition and how to discern the genuine people in my life that truly mattered and would allow me to grow. Every second we pass is a second gone forever. I enjoyed music more – I danced to it better, because my dancing was fueled by the drive in my soul. I looked up instead of looking down at my smart phone all the time. The common and the ordinary become extraordinary. I discovered that carpe diem wasn’t found in glittery clubs and trending restaurants, but in focusing my attention on the people, things and little moments in my daily life that were my life.
I had experienced the shift.
Granted, it took some time. Sometimes you need a moment after the storm to assess what is left. And slowly, where others saw tragedy I saw opportunity. I realized how lucky I was to have learned such an important lesson early on, in every ambit of my life – because this wasn’t just a question of money. When I had it, I still found the time to enter bouts of depression in my earlier years for reasons that money could not buy.
What I learned it seemed, was true gratitude and where to place it. And this isn’t simply a feeling, it is a life altering shift in perspective that will open your heart and mind to a view of the world that is beautiful, allowing you to connect.
Over time, this continued process of reinforcing this view of appreciation and gratitude has allowed me to become aware and attuned to that instant in which a negative pattern begins, permitting me to stop, breathe, let it go, and re-focus on my gratitude.
The strength and confidence this gives me is incalculable. It allowed me to pick myself up and start again. If there are incredible highs, there will be incredible lows. It is a natural balance in life we must use to teach ourselves to live the journey that only seems to slip by when the mind is shrouded in doubt and fear.
Now? I know my drive and my surrender as well as my new, shifted outlook will guide me where I need to go. It brought me to the incredible man in my life, an angel of a human being who has stood by me and whom I might have missed had I spent the day the way I had originally planned – sequestered under the self-pity covers. I can’t wait to see where else my path of true gratitude will lead me.