Not all days are good, but there is good in every day.
For the majority of my life, I had the belief that people are thankful only when things are going really well for them- when they are happy and life is good. I spent way too much time obsessing over all the things that needed to get done, worrying about minor inconveniences, and feeling bad for myself when things went a little wrong. Of course, I was overall grateful for the life I was living, but I rarely practiced being THANKFUL.
A little over 5 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people diagnosed with ALS lose the ability to speak, eat, move, and eventually breathe. The last five years have been pretty brutal. My mom, who was an avid tennis player, golfer, and bike rider, always up for anything and the life of the party, is now confined to a wheelchair and talking through a computer. It’s been five years of feeling horrible and helpless as she loses the ability to do more and more. But, I have to admit the days have also been filled with so much joy- and a whole lot of thankfulness for the little things: spending time with our large family and revolving door of friends that come to visit, watching videos with grandkids, and sitting outside on her patio feeling the sun on our faces. And don’t get me wrong, she is still the life of the party. Sometime along the way, my mom started writing about her life living with ALS. And each of her writings is filled with love, gratitude, and appreciation for each day we are given together. This is from one of her most recent posts:
My new year’s resolution is to just roll with whatever comes. It’s a mystery to me how a body can be so devastated, yet the will to live - not just exist - is so strong. It’s a mystery to me that I’ve etched out a path to happiness in spite of losing just about every functional body part. I’m one of those people, probably like most of you reading this, who would’ve said I could NEVER survive as a quadriplegic, thinking death a better option. The truth is, we humans can be quite resilient, and with enough support and a determined mindset, we can survive and even thrive when facing the greatest challenges.
I begin the new year with no idea what will be, a true mystery, and I’m not sure I’d even want to know. All that is certain is as long as my brain and eyes are functioning, I will be grateful and make the best of the mysteries that await.
The silver lining to this horrible disease is that it has made our entire family and community around us truly appreciate and be thankful for our lives. It’s not the major accomplishments; it’s the smallest, almost unnoticeable daily events that we are grateful for. Not all days are good, but there is good in every day.
Thankfulness is a practice: it's the cultivation of happiness. We should all resolve to practice gratitude. It can be really REALLY hard some days, but I have learned that a truly happy life means practicing thankfulness EVERY SINGLE DAY, even when it's not easy. This doesn’t come naturally to anyone. That’s why we call it a practice: it’s difficult, we don’t feel like doing it, but then we always feel better afterwards.
So I pose this challenge: Take five minutes every week to reflect on the GOOD in our lives. Really, we should do it much more often, but a few minutes a week is a good start. Think about the things that are going right, things we are celebrating, and little “wins” from the week. Think about a little tiny bright spot in your life. What did you do RIGHT, or do BEST, or do for the FIRST time this week? It doesn’t have to be exercise related, but practicing gratitude and thankfulness IS an exercise. Start this practice of thankfulness, and to get in the habit of doing it (read HERE for more tips on forming habits). Do it the same time each week, write it down, and share it with others.
Of course, there are still days where I obsess over everything that needs to get done, worry about things I can’t control, and feel bad when things go wrong. I’m human, we all do that. But, I also always make sure to take a few moments to reflect on what is going right and appreciate everything that is good in my life. It turns out I have an awfully lot to be thankful for.