I found myself whispering on December 31st at midnight, “2015, don’t let the door hit you on the way out and DON’T fall down the fucking stairs.” It was one of those years and although nothing changes after a day when the calendar flips over, I like to think of it as a metaphorical closing of a chapter.
It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, so my new practice of listing at least five things that I’m grateful for everyday has been and will continue to be a source of comfort. The benefits of having ‘an attitude of gratitude’ have been scientifically researched and documented at leading universities around the world. Like mindfulness, and compassion, it’s not new but is enjoying a renaissance and increasing popularity among those in the affluent West (the ‘worried well’). According to Harvard, “Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”
It could be easy for an anti-materialistic wandering hippy gypsy like myself to bemoan my lack of material objects and things associated with status and prestige (seriously, why would anyone drop $50,000 on a new BMW?! You could travel around the world for years on that!). So, I’ve taken a leaf from my Indonesian and Cambodian friends’ book. Although they don’t have much economically or materially (or because they don’t have much), they understand the importance of social connections and being grateful for what little they do have.
Just thinking about today, I can be grateful that I live in a warm, clean, modern apartment. That I have a comfortable bed and fridge full of healthy food that I chose and bought myself. That I was able to have a hot shower. That I was able to easily purchase a book I wanted. That I have five different kinds of tea to choose from. That I have time to sit down and write this and that I have a computer to write it on and access to the Internet to publish it. Having a fast and reliable Internet connection means that I’ve also been able to connect with friends, and do online study. I can walk outside without ever worrying I’m going to be attacked or hit by gunfire. That I basically have the freedom to do and say what I want. Stretching time, to think about the past and future weeks and months, I am gainfully employed, I have savings, I am healthy, I have health insurance, I have access to decent medical care should I need it, I have friends and family that care about me. I needed (wanted?) some new shoes, so I bought some. I had the means to take myself to a warm, sunny jungle paradise to help heal a broken heart. I have access to professional counsel. I have the privilege of having champagne problems and indulging in white whines. I also have the privilege of being able to legally work in multiple countries around the world. The color of my skin and the nationality of my passport ensure that I’ll always have a degree of security and access to health and education and a social safety net to catch me should I fall.
So here’s to 2016 – the year that no matter what, there is always something to be grateful for. As Epictetus once said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”