As a twenty-something female, I realize that I have a lot of life left to live. I have yet to travel to all seven continents or learn how to cook steak, and I’m not even close to finishing – or starting – the book I’ve dreamed of writing since I was a little girl. However, I have managed to pack a nice chunk of life experience into the last 10 years or so and there is one life lesson that has stood out to me quite a bit this past year, which is that an attitude of gratitude can change your life.
Recently, I experienced the bittersweet farewell to my first ‘adult’ relationship. Don’t worry, this article is not about your run of the mill break up and how being single can be super empowering for women (even though I do totally feel that way). This mature relationship of mine coincided with that magical time I like to call “the flipping of the maturity switch”. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that period of time when one of your friends starts to casually consider marriage as a viable option for her current boyfriend and another one of your gal pals is constantly talking about the seriousness of her career. It is that morning at brunch when you and your friends stop referring to thirty years old as ancient because – GASP – it’s no longer that far away. It’s that time in your twenties when you understand that you are supposed to be maturing while simultaneously trying to answer a slew of new questions about yourself and the real world. I personally had a million questions that needed answers, like when the hell did we get so old? Was I really supposed to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life? Now that my teenage dream of being an overnight success for no real reason was obviously not going to happen, what was my next move? Which dream was the right one to pursue? I think somewhere along the way between looking for answers to these questions and trying to be in a mature relationship, I got a little lost.
It was September of 2012 when I realized I had developed an immense unhappiness within myself. It was like the San Francisco fog had silently rolled right into my mind while I was distracted with my relationship and despite my best efforts to see past it, I could not seem to find the bright light that I knew was waiting for me behind the clouds. I remember noticing in the fall that my behaviors had changed. I hadn’t written or sketched anything in months and I was just barely making an effort to see my friends. Music really wasn’t doing it for me the way it usually did and I was eating to bury my feelings. I picked fights with my boyfriend and blamed what was at the time a failing relationship for the emptiness that I was feeling inside.
After several months of acting like a real P.O.S. and at the height of my personal misery, three incredibly tragic deaths took place. Two young men from my hometown passed away in two separate accidents and the third young man who passed was my best friend’s ex boyfriend from college. I was not fortunate enough to have had a close relationship with any of the three young men, however the way that their passing took a toll on my community and my close friends was heartbreaking for me, even just as an outsider looking in. I remember hugging my friend as she cried after receiving the news of her former boyfriend’s passing and how I, the biggest chatterbox of all, had no response when she told me that it was unimaginable to her that their last goodbye had been forever. The pain from the loss of these boys was immeasurable and the sentiment was the same – the love that my community had for them was staggering and would not be diminished by their absence. For me, these losses served as excruciating reminders that everything we hold near and dear could be gone tomorrow.
During the weeks following each of these tragedies, something inside me changed. I remember waking up every day and thanking a higher power that I didn’t know I believed in that I was still alive. I remember the urgency I felt to tell my friends and family how much they meant to me. I remember making the conscious decision to be grateful for what I have because other people are happier with much, much less. There’s a quote on Pinterest that says, “What if you only woke up today with the things that you were grateful for yesterday?” Well, I wanted to wake up everyday with all of the same things from the day before because I realized (sorry it took so long Mom) that I led a truly charmed life. After the second and third deaths, my feelings of gratitude were amplified even more. If the sun was out that day, I would take a minute to be thankful for the beautiful weather and would spend ten seconds appreciating the warmth of the sun on my face. If I had to drive somewhere, I found myself saying thank you to the universe for getting me to my destination safely. For the first time in my life I was able to see that the relationship I had spent so much time on was not right for me and I ended it feeling overwhelmingly grateful, instead of sad, for everything that it had taught me about myself. I started noticing beauty in the world again, like the mix of colors in the sky over the Golden Gate Bridge during my commute home. It took some time but eventually with consistent positive thoughts, the fog that had clouded my mind for so long had cleared and I could see the light.
Here I am, six months later, and I am pleased to report that I am still walking around with this unrelenting sense of appreciation towards the woman upstairs or the universe or whatever is out there. I have made the choice to stay this way and to wear these rose-colored glasses of gratitude as often as I can. The change has been drastic for me; my energy level is through the roof and I don’t remember a time before this where I laughed as often as I do now. It even elicited a “what is wrong with you?” from my best friend when a killer Sunday morning hangover couldn’t stop me from waking up with a positive attitude and a huge smile on my face. Being grateful allowed me to feel optimistic about being single and to feel wholly secure about who I am. I am writing again, going to the gym when I feel like it and it is entirely possible that this is the happiest I have ever been in my life.
I guess I should apologize for lying earlier when I told you this was not a story about a break up because in the end it was. This was the story about how I broke up with my former self and chose happiness instead of darkness. I’m not crazy enough to believe that I don’t still have negative moments and my life is no where near perfect, however the negative moments are fleeting and I am well aware now that things can always be worse than they are. I did two really important things for myself in the last six months that enabled me to feel the way I do today and they hold true for accomplishing any goal: I made gratitude a priority and I remained consistent in working towards my goal of being grateful for what I have. My new positive attitude has made it easy to meet difficulties in my personal life with a healthy perspective and to take on tasks with a gusto that I simply didn’t have before.
Perhaps most importantly though, was the fact I have adopted the mindset that everything in life is a mind game, which means we are in full control of how we choose to play. For me, choosing to play with a positive attitude has made all the difference. In order to stay positive, I have written myself an inner dialogue that can now defeat even the most negative of thoughts. Whenever an ugly thought slips into my mind, I purposefully counter it with something undeniably positive. Next time you hear yourself thinking ‘I look fat, I really need to hit the gym’, remind yourself that you are beautiful no matter how much you weigh. Sure, you should go to the gym to be healthy, but go to the gym knowing that even if you didn’t you would still be a gorgeous human being. When you feel exhausted or overwhelmed at work, remind yourself that there are unemployed people out there who would kill to be making money, and at least you have weekends to relax! The next time a family member is driving you up the wall, take a second to remember that you are lucky to have a family to fight with in the first place (this was actually able to end an argument for me). Being grateful has truly changed my world in the most unexpected, wonderful way. If you are ever feeling lost the way that I did, remind yourself that happiness is a choice, and it starts with choosing to wear the rose-colored glasses of gratitude.