Last Monday began like any other. I willed myself out of bed when the alarm went off before dawn. I shuffled around, grumbling about the usual. I sighed as the garage door closed behind me, and I headed off to begin the week.
My mind wandered to nothing in particular as I drove the familiar thirteen miles to the office. It was another Monday, another week. Same as the last and same as the next.
About fifteen minutes into my commute, the driver just ahead of me lost control of his car, swerving in and out of my lane. He weaved what could be a beautiful pattern under any other circumstances with his little red sedan.
I was trapped between two lanes, and the cars barreled toward us from behind. There was nothing to do but stop. I watched it happen in slow motion and played out what seemed inevitable. I saw my car wrap around his. I saw the cars hit me from behind. I could almost feel the impact.
My life and the things that matter most to me flashed before me. My mind flipped through the people I wished I could see one more time, the regrets for what I haven’t accomplished, and the words I still had inside of me left unsaid.
And then, miraculously, nothing happened.
There was no crash. Not even a tiny scratch on the bumper.
The driver made it to the shoulder, and everyone carried on like it was business as usual. I peeked at my fellow travelers at the next red light. Everyone seemed absorbed in their own world, fiddling with the radio, putting on makeup, and sending a quick text.
I wonder how many of them were doing exactly what I was at that moment: counting my blessings and pledging to appreciate more of my life.
I routinely tell myself to practice more gratitude, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with. There’s always something to be grateful for, but there’s also always something else vying for attention.
You might appreciate those things about life that are so exquisite they make your heart race just thinking about them, but not every part of life is like that. There are the things that take longer than you want them to and the things that pass you by too quickly. There are also the parts you wish you could do something about and the parts that aren’t doing what you tell them to.
Soon life happens, and you forget all about that gratitude journal tucked away on standby beneath the pile of papers on your desk.
When you get thrown a curveball, the kind that blindsides you and knocks you out (or almost does), you might snap out of the trance for a minute and realize what this life really means to you. Everything is so clear right then, but the clarity doesn’t last forever. Life keeps happening, and you’re back to that typical Monday morning.
Not this time, I vowed. I wanted to hold on to this feeling.
Gratitude is a lot more than a desire, though. It’s a choice you have to make consistently if that feeling’s ever going to stick.
I looked at my day through newly opened eyes. I wrote down the things I ordinarily take for granted, or worse complain about.
I thanked the car for keeping me safe and realized how lucky I am to even have the hybrid I’d been eyeing for so long. It’s safe, comfortable, and even my favorite color.
As I walked up the stairs to my office, I thought about how lucky I was to be taking these steps at all. Here I am in the career I worked so hard to get to. My job is stable, respected, and valued. It pays my bills, and I even get my own office with a computer and window.
I called my husband and remembered how fortunate I am when he picked up right away. He listened to me like he always does. He trusts me, no questions asked, and accepts me even when I’m not the nicest person to be around.
As I pulled into the driveway that night, I noticed my house for what felt like the first time. This house keeps my family comfortable and safe. It’s filled with memories and supplied with whatever conveniences I could want.
And the kids…there aren’t enough words of thanks for them.
By the end of the day, I’d made some life-changing discoveries.
I realized how incredibly fortunate I am to be safe and comfortable. I have the things I want, the things I’ve worked hard for, and I’ve learned the difference between the two.
My home is filled with love.
I am healthy and alive today.
I am alive today.
These things are happening right here, right now, and to me of all people. They’re not happening on a private beach in Fiji or with more money and a new house. They’re not happening in a less cluttered home or with fewer grey hairs.
They were all there the whole time, waiting for me to wake up and see them.
What about you? What is waiting to be seen by your newly awakened eyes?
It’s easy to get charmed by the story of happiness coming along with that next, greatest thing, but it’s just that: a story. There isn’t some set it and forget it, magic combination of the right house, the right city, and the right sized jeans that brings you a rich life worth appreciating.
Appreciation doesn’t come later. It is here right now if you’ll have it. @ralph_leslie (Click to Tweet!)
Keep working toward your goals, and set out to achieve your wildest dreams. Just remember to appreciate the path you’re on while you do.
Treat yourself to nice things when you can, but remember that they aren’t the keepers of your happiness. You are.
When you forget all of this, gently remind yourself to appreciate life with no judgment and no questions asked.
Wake yourself up from the trance every now and then and make a list of what this life means to you. You might just thank yourself for it later.
Leslie Ralph shows working moms how to bust those superwoman myths and bring back the balance and joy with her signature blend of real-life positive psychology tips and guilt-free meditations at A Year of Happy. To get you started, she’s whipped up a delectable 2-minute revitalizing meditation for you to enjoy on the house at: http://www.ayearofhappy.com/revitalize.
Image courtesy of Vashishtha Jogi.