It’s true, spending time thinking about the things going right in your life does shift perspective and lead to better outcomes. It’s not always easy, but I highly recommend it. Sometimes things are overwhelmingly negative and challenging in our lives, and those are the moments this exercise can create critical change. It’s not about putting a coat of sugar or gloss over bad situations, it’s a willingness to look beyond the immediate negatives in search of what is good. And it’s there.
Two years ago I was living in a place I hated, where every day was covered in a low-hanging blanket of grey clouds, affecting my mood and making me irritable. Every single thing felt like an inconvenience, including the basics, like grocery shopping (which I love). My attitude was bitterly bad, toxic and negative. I infected everything I touched with my bad moods. Nothing was working, nothing was right. I lacked perspective, in a big way.
I’ve recently taken to noticing and appreciating every morning I wake up and I’m not in the hospital. I come into frequent contact with families who are dealing with seriously ill family members and it’s given me a wallop of perspective. Before I met folks who spend weeks and months in and out of medical treatment facilities, searching for answers, submitting to test after test, drugs, needles, surgeries, hardly living at home, I didn’t get it. I had no concept of the joy of waking up each morning, at home, not hooked to machines, eating food not from a cafeteria, no need for monitoring, poking or prodding. Seriously, it’s a marvelous, wonderful thing.
I got in a minor car accident a few weeks ago, my fault, lighting my $500 deductible on fire, and damaging a cherished, new-to-me car I’d only had for a couple of months. After the initial shaky, dazed feeling wore off, I understood how lucky I was to have walked away, and the person who hit me, too. Neither of us were hurt, our cars minorly damaged. The accident confronted me with an important truth: I’m a distracted, often reckless driver, and not because of my phone. I realized I’d been given a warning to pay attention and make safer decisions in traffic. I got off easy, and I was grateful.
I’ve never gone hungry or lacked access to clean, abundant water. I’ve never had to sleep outside or wear dirty clothes, or go unwashed. I live in an age of modern conveniences, in a country where I can publicly say terrible things about the government without fear. I live in a time and place where women have options beyond running a household and raising children. I’ve never had to spend an entire day doing laundry by hand or move to a new state via covered wagon. I have a device in my hand at all times with which I can reach out to anyone when I’m lonely, or find information when I wonder, or get directions when I’m lost. I’ve never faced long-term unemployment or been entirely unable to pay my rent and bills. I’ve never lived in a place lacking infrastructure, and have never had to think about extended power outages or unsafe roads, or whether my trash will be picked up. In fact, rarely thinking about a lot of this stuff, just taking it for granted, is a sign of privilege. I own it.
When I begin to feel angst, or dissatisfaction or longing over stuff like my job, or myself, or my social life I remember something important. These are existential issues, problems relating to my place in the world, not my immediate needs. Having the time and energy to grapple with existential issues is a luxury. Cherish it, for it means your immediate needs are being met, leaving you with space to take on the struggles of self. What a marvelous gift, to lack for so few basic comforts and conveniences you can go internal and pick yourself and life apart until it looks like shit.
This morning when I woke up, I wasn’t in the hospital, and I was grateful. I can only hope tomorrow will find me in the same condition. Because when and if the day comes that I wake up hooked to machines in an unfamiliar room, I sure as hell don’t want to think, man, I had it all and I didn’t even know.
Happy Thanksgiving, if you’re celebrating! Happy Friday Jr., if you’re not!