As I was driving the other day, letting my mind wander away from thoughts about work, I realized that I have a lot of reasons to be grateful. Sure, I’ve had my ups and downs like anyone else, but I tend not to focus on those. The bigger picture is, I’ve been allowed to do what I want to do for most of my life. I live where I want to live, I work where I want to work, I generally do the things I want to, even if those things vary from month to month. I have to thank my wife for a lot of this. She lets me do what I want most of the time, but it goes deeper than that.
When I look back at my life, I’ve always done what I wanted. I’ve hardly ever been pushed into a situation that I didn’t enjoy or want to be in. The few times I have, it hasn’t worked out well, and I wonder if that’s because I just didn’t want to be there and the universe helped me out. I have a long way to go to have my life anywhere near perfect, but I can say that I have always enjoyed my life, and I don’t think a lot of people feel that way about their own lives.
A lighthearted approach
So what’s the key to my happiness? First, I see the humor in everything. I laugh at the world and myself. I wish half my humor came across in my writing, but that doesn’t seem to be my destiny. Next, I tend to focus on the good, and not focus on what’s wrong. I’m not a worrywart, thank God. My wife has that covered for me. I think worrying is a crippling pastime. Finally, I truly try to make myself better – I read and I write and I learn languages, and I try to be better than I was yesterday. I know that this will be one of the only skills going forward that matters – the ability to keep learning and picking up something new.
But there’s a thread that runs through my life that I can’t account for. Gratitude exposes it a little, but not enough. It’s my attitude about things and life in general that help me through. Attitude can either help or hurt you. Mine definitely helps me. My life is far from perfect, but I enjoy every minute of it. I love my family, my job is interesting and challenges me, and I get to do enough extra-curricular things to keep me happy most days. But back to the thread that runs through my life.
It’s a mindset
I’m just fortunate. Sure, I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I’ve made some decisions that have worked out very well for me. But I’ve also made some that have caused a lot of harm as well. But at the end of the day, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to find good jobs and leverage my connections in business to keep growing. But again, that view might just be my attitude. I could focus on the bad – my divorce, my dad passing away, my stepson running away from home and never contacting us, my failed business that wiped out my life’s savings – those are heartbreaking things that have happened to me and that are still very much reminders of my failings. But somehow, my makeup is such that I don’t dwell on my failures or the challenges that life throws in my way.
Especially today. Today, I’m focused on how grateful I am that my life is this good and this easy for me most days. Even on a day where travel was brutal, and I had serious thoughts about how we, as consumers, can do something about how the airlines treat passengers, even on a day like this, I manage to stay positive. I’ve known people who are the complete opposite. They complain about everything, they blame their failings on everyone else around them, but never take ownership of their own failures. I always feel bad for people like that. But, there’s nothing I can do to affect someone else’s happiness. I learned that lesson more than 20 years ago when I went through a divorce. That’s also when I learned that we are all responsible for our own happiness.
We often hear about stopping to smell the roses – a metaphor for enjoying things in life that are easily missed. But I think we have to stop and feel gratitude for what we do have and what we have accomplished, regardless of what or how much that is. You have to do it without comparing yourself to others. We’re pushed so much in this world to compare. We know how good we’re doing by looking at our neighbors. “I’m doing better than him,” we think to ourselves. But that’s a losing battle. We have to think, “I am happy, I hope they are as well.” When my neighbor does something I don’t like (which is always passive-aggressive, unfortunately) I just write it off as a manifestation of his own misery. I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for a lot of people, actually.
But I don’t ever feel sorry for myself. Because I control my actions and inactions. So if I do something that I don’t like, it’s my own damn fault. My innate ability to ignore my failings helps me not be too brutal to myself. But I’ve written about how I can’t forgive myself some days when I’ve screwed up and it’s affected my writing. That’s the one thing that really matters to me these days, so the only thing I’m strict with myself about is something that causes me to miss the morning writing.
But today, I’m grateful that I have the willpower to get up early and write. It makes my days better, it seems to reset me each morning to get ready for whatever is going to be thrown at me that day. I’m grateful that I found this process and that I’ve been able to exceed my wildest dreams just by coming up with a system and sticking to it. We all have much to be grateful for, and just like the proverbial roses, we have to take time to notice those things once in a while.
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