There was a time in my life when living was hard.
I now refer to it as my dark time in a similar fashion as those who flourished during the Enlightenment looked back at the previous era and called it the Dark Ages. The people who lived in the Dark Ages weren’t going around thinking about what they couldn’t see. They just lived life as they believed it to be. My personal dark time took place in my twenties. Specific events triggered it, which I don’t want to get into now, but from the vista of my current happy life, it is sometimes hard to imagine the limitations I once assumed.
During my dark period people often advised me to be grateful for what I had. That advice hit me like fingernails on a chalkboard. Yes, I could always picture others in more dire circumstances, but it felt insulting to be told to do so. In fact, it backfired in the same way that reminding children about the starving kids in Africa breeds more resentment than clean plates. Comparing apples to oranges never changed my perspective on life. It only made me shush up about my experience. The call to gratitude made me feel unheard. The small voice saying, I am suffering, was told to be silent so the roar of global suffering could echo.
Isn’t it funny how time can change us almost imperceptibly in the moment, but so dramatically in retrospect?
I no longer recognize my unhappy self. It was a few years ago; it was a lifetime ago.
The short answer is: me. All I can say is, I worked through every problem I had. I’m not sure if I solved them, but I examined and addressed them. Along the way I found yoga, Buddhism, travel, meditation, exercise, cooking, and my own unrelenting passion for life the French call joie de vivre.
I did the work and I got mostly there, but it was finding the love of my life and creating a family that brought me a watershed of happiness. I hesitate to say that, because it’s frightening and dangerous to tell someone else who may be going through a dark time that happiness came from an external source, but that is the truth of my experience. On the other hand, I believe that the Universe waited until I was able to truly appreciate my blessings before bestowing me with the greatest I will ever receive.
What I have learned most about happiness is that, lo and behold, it is inextricably linked to gratitude. It may be a case of chicken-versus-egg as to which comes first, but the two qualities share a beautiful, symbiotic relationship:
Gratitude feeds happiness, and in turn, happiness breeds gratitude.
I walk around all day in a state of rather shocked grace. This is my life? I get to be a mother to these boys? This man is my husband?
I am sure, dear reader, that you cannot fully appreciate the specificity I invoke with my pronouns.
How can I ever express how deeply cherished each one of these people are? How invaluably lucky I feel to not only live side-by-side with them, but to experience the intimacy of family that enables me such privileges as to hold them close everyday? To know and love the intricacies and eccentricities of each of their amazing spirits?
It is enough to take my breath away.
Every breath, every day.
It is not that my life has turned out perfectly. It is not that my dreams have all come true. It is not that I no longer have problems. Of course, none of those things are true. But now I face my obstacles, disappointments and disasters with more awareness for what I have, than what I don’t have. I am constantly aware of my blessings. I name them and call them out, like I used to do with my troubles. This gives power to my gratitude. I am living happily-ever-after within the confines of a regular life.
What I am most grateful for these days is not my husband or my home. It is not even my beautiful, healthy babies. I am grateful for gratitude.
Gratitude teaches me that knowing what I have is more important than what I have. Appreciating life means accepting it as it is: good and bad. That enables happiness to flourish at all times, irregardless of circumstance. Gratitude enables happiness to be accessible every single day.
This is the prayer I find whispering through my lips as I turn off my reading lamp and snuggle into sleep each night:
Thank you for thank you.