“Look at what you’ve got and make the best of it. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” ~Proverb
In 2013 I started keeping track of my gratitude. Each day I write between five to eight unique events I am grateful for. I don’t repeat anything from the previous day.
If you grew up in an abundant environment and learned to be grateful because of it, awesome. I did not.
Learning was a slow process for me. After twenty-one days I was not a more positive or grateful person. A hundred days in, it had completely changed my life.
Gratitude does not come naturally to me but is the surest path to happiness, I promise.
Even when work sucks and people disappoint me or I let myself down, I make an effort to see all the spaces, places, and people for which or whom I am grateful.
With time I have begun to recognize my gratitude not just at the end of the day, but when things actually occur.
I accompany homeless adults on the arduous journey of trying to reenter the work market. Recently, one participant (in a drunken rage) broke the leg of the chair and threatened to attack another person.
My team took care of the immediate danger, and the next day it was left to me to conduct the reflection.
The conversation lasted less than five minutes. He justified his actions and I couldn’t muster up the courage to challenge him.
“Is this your first time?” our new social worker asked with concern.
“No, more like my hundredth,” I replied.
Not my best work. I felt like a failure.
One year ago I would have replayed the scene in my head over and over and called myself every name in the book. I’m the manager, what example am I setting, my team thinks I am a loser, the participant thinks I am a joke, etc.
It’s hard to be happy, in any circumstance, when you are your own worst critic.
Being kind to myself is a huge challenge—and a fundamental element in my pursuit of living an authentic and happy life.
Recognizing that self-compassion is not weakness or going to make me a lazy, unmotivated slob has greatly increased my willingness to be nicer to myself.
The truth is, the kinder I am to myself, the more willing I am to get up from each failure and try again.
Writing not published? Try somewhere else.
Friend not responding? Give it some time.
Husband really mad at me? That is okay, it happens to everyone and we will work it out.
How do you treat yourself when you fail? Make sure it’s with a hug.
After I recovered from the shock of the therapist’s statement that I had no clearly formed sense of self, I knew she was right.
What now? How do I discover who I am?
I asked myself, what do I love to do?
I didn’t ask myself how I will make the most money or become famous or what I am the best at. I asked myself what I love and then acted upon the response without reservation.
The answer was writing.
I can’t identify independent clauses, I have never read Dostoevsky, I will probably never be able to make a living from writing, and it is what I love to do.
This was the motivation to start taking online writing classes, reading books, and starting a daily writing practice.
Better yet, by investing in one interest, several others had room to grow.
In 2013 I took a photography class, began sketching, created desserts with no refined sugar, and started a blog—all of which I do while maintaining my full-time job.
If no one reads what I write or looks at what I create, that is okay.
What matters is that I showed up for me.
If someone asks you who are you, what are your hobbies, what you would do if money weren’t an issue and you don’t have an answer, don’t worry—I didn’t either.
Simply start with what you love.
Don’t judge, don’t censure, don’t over think. What do you love?
You will experience sadness and loss and suffering in life. There is no guarantee or protection against pain. But if you practice gratitude and self-compassion and invest in your identity, you will create a default state of happiness that will support all the difficulties and failures along the way.
Take a deep breath, get in touch with who you are, and with great kindness find something you appreciate about your life, exactly as it is. There you have it.
Happiness is within your reach right now, no matter what is happening in your life.