There was a time in my life when I had a fairly constant awareness of lots of things for which I was grateful. It was one of the happiest times of my life, yet, at least superficially and by comparison to life today, it looked worse: I was figuring out how to be a single-parent to three young boys, learning a new job, negotiating a new romantic relationship, and my best friend had just died. I was scrambling to hold it all together on so many levels that it spins my head to think about it.
Again, by all outward appearances, life today is better: I’m secure in my profession and career, I have a good handle on single parenting, I’m married to an outrageously wonderful woman, I’m in better (and improving) physical health, I’ve picked up a few new hobbies (slinging wicked cocktails and making a banjo complain), we’ve grown an increasing amount of our own food at home, welcomed a sweet dog into our family, and made our home far more comfortable through shared imagination and hard work. Yet, I’ve felt less content recently than I did back in the bad old days. Why?
I suspect the answer has to do with a habit I used to have – that I picked up in Al-Anon – and let lapse in the years after I quit attending meetings. The habit was, so simply, to verbally list the good things in my life on a regular basis. Meetings kept me doing so at least weekly, and because I noticed the practice made me feel more at peace with my life’s circumstances, I made it my own. Letting that habit go has at least coincided with a diminution of equanimity and contentedness, and moreover, I suspect, has helped to effect it.
So lately, I’ve been trying to revive the habit.
Last night, I counted 16 candles I could light in our living room, and thought about how much nicer that would make it feel in there. (See fig. 1, above.) I counted Winston, freshly bathed and with a new haircut, chilling on the sofa instead of eating socks. I counted a super comfortable recliner chair from which I, myself, could chill and watch the dog and wonder how dogs work. I thought about those things I named a couple of paragraphs up, and made myself a little drink and relaxed into the recliner. I felt the soreness in my calves from running, and felt grateful for the ability to use my body as well as I can. I thought about Julie’s family, whom I love and who has welcomed me and my kids as family of their own. I thought about all the apples I ate off the tree in our front yard this year. Hell, I felt grateful for the episode of The Wire I knew Jul and I would watch when she got home from work. What I’m trying to say is that once I got started counting things for which I felt grateful, I could hardly stop.
I know this might seem at least trite, and maybe naively facile, but the point I’m being reminded of is that I have a ton of control over how I feel about my life. Honestly, that should probably go at the top of my list.
On that note, here’s wishing you and yours a Thanksgiving holiday filled with abundance, gratitude, and peace.