There’s a saying: take care of the minutes and the years will take care of themselves. It is the little things we do often and everyday that help us achieve the greater things. What are these moments comprised of? This is a question that is often on my mind. They’re not the stuff of social media, these bricks of our lives. Rather, life is comprised of a series of mundane, often habitual actions. Which is not to say that they aren’t pleasurable or enjoyable – the daily shower, a few pieces of dark chocolate, walking in the sunshine, patting a cute dog.

In the past two days, I consider what I’ve done that’s been of value. Feeling tired from a long day and slightly under the weather and in a premenstrual stupor, I forced myself to go for an evening walk. I find flowers, watch the sun set, and rejuvenate. But it was chilly and I was still tired so I slunk under the warm, fluffy covers in the haven that is my bed and escaped into re-watching an episode of The L Word for the millionth time. Imagining I was in sexy, sunny L.A. felt good, though probably not very healthy. I scoffed chocolate and jalapeno nachos and an orange. There were crumbs in my bed but I didn’t care. Still, I forced myself to brush my teeth before I passed out.

The next morning, I woke up early as usual. I was happy to see the sunshine. I got ready to meet my friend for breakfast right in the center of the city. I felt grateful as I sat on the bus, looking out the window, a blue sky with a veneer of microdust. How lucky to have the time, energy and money to be able to meet a friend for breakfast on a Saturday morning. How lucky that it’s a quick bus ride into the center of this bustling global city of ten million people. How cool that my friend is a smart, beautiful and interesting woman from the other side of the world and although sharing very little in common, we are bonded by our adopted (temporary) home and our shared hobby. How wonderful to have a stimulating, wide-ranging discussion and then walk together to our training session.

We are in a studio for an hour jumping and kicking and dancing with a world-class teacher. There’s seven different nationalities undertaking this journey together on this day. We finish by lunch time and my friend and I head out and go to the swanky department store across the road where we have a choice of cuisine from around the world – Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Indian. We opt for the latter and then pop into the adjacent supermarket to buy some meat for a barbeque I’ll attend later. It’s good quality and I don’t care too much about the price. I’m fortunate not to have to care too much. We hug goodbye – she’ll fly to Moscow to see her family over the public holidays next week and I head home to clean my cozy space and get ready for my neighbor’s gathering.

I have an hour before I have to be literally next door, so I sweep and fold and put away then I get out the cockroach ammunition I bought a few days ago, on the day that I spent at the hospital, getting a criminal background check, grocery shopping, and place the pellets in all the dark, hidden corners. This is one battle I don’t want to lose, despite whether it’s ethical or not.

Next door, the barbeque is cranking on the patio. There’s a lot of meat, even sausages smuggled in from the north of Thailand. There’s cask wine and salad. The gathering is small yet we represent six countries. I learn about how to operate a drone, the clothing manufacturing sector in Vietnam, the New Atheist movement, the decline of the bourgeois in Paris and the Australian and American Green Parties. There’s some sloppy drunkenness and after a few hours, I’m happy to go home, a five second walk away, and collapse into silence. I take my thick book of crossword puzzles and try to solve a few more clues before I fall asleep. I cheat a little by using the Internet. But there’s a sense of accomplishment as my eyes close.

I wake up seven hours later and decide it’s a good day to eat chocolate for breakfast. Why not. And I listen to a podcast, an interview with an Irish singer who has become sober after a sordid past of alcohol, drugs and highly publicised toxic relationships. I decide to eat some real food – an egg on really good bread that I was lucky to find and once again, an orange. I need to work and I force myself to complete an onerous task that’s been hanging over me for a few days. I then decide to paint my toenails with some turquoise nail polish I bought on a careless shopping spree I undertook recently on payday when I needed a dopamine hit. As usual, I made a mess of it. My toes look like a three year old painted them. Soon I’ll throw on my favorite Lululemon sweat pants and walk for an hour to a nearby neighborhood to meet a friend for dinner. I’ll treat her for her recent birthday and try to hold space for my PMS – the low mood, the sore breasts, the cramps. I’ll breathe through each moment and feel grateful.

2016: The year of gratitude

Champagne_2I 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.”