Counting Our Blessings

An aerial view of our gingerbread house

“Why is it, when I am in Rome

I’d give an eye to be at home,

But when on native earth I be,

My soul is sick for Italy?

And why with you, my love, my lord,

Am I spectacularly bored,

Yet do you up and leave me – then

I scream to have you back again?”

-Dorothy Parker, On Being a Woman 

Ian McLauren said, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I think we all struggle with staying in the moment.

Work, kids, stress, money, age.  Our minds wrestle with worries like whether or not we’ll find purpose in our work or whether or not we’re lovable.  Our thoughts tell us we’re not good enough.  We think that we’re not strong/thin/beautiful/smart/successful (fill in the blank) enough.  With all of that, it’s more difficult to focus on what’s happening around us.  We’re often focused on what we don’t have rather than what we do.

It’s a weird to think, that if I just opened my eyes to the beauty around me, appreciated all my blessings, loved myself completely for who I am, and changed nothing else, I could find the secret to happiness  that I’ve been looking for.

Stoney B Blues Jam with Nina

A movie released in 1940 called “The Blue Bird” touches on this idea.  In the movie, a little girl named Mytyl (Shirley Temple), the bratty daughter of a German woodcutter, finds a unique bird in the forest and selfishly refuses to give the bird to her sick friend. Mytyl and her brother Tyltyl’s parents are separated when the woodcutter must go off to fight in a war, but their parents are mortified at Mytyl’s behavior. That night, Mytyl is visited in her dream by a fairy who sends her and her brother Tyltyl in search of the Blue Bird of Happiness. The children have a number of adventures.  Mytyl wakes up as a kinder and more well-mannered girl who has learned to appreciate all the comforts and joys of her home and family, and the children’s father returns home safely from the war.  In other words, the Blue Bird of Happiness was with Mytyl all along.

Thanksgiving always reminds us to count our blessings and enjoy the little things.  I spent the past week with my family.  I talked in British accents with my sisters for hours on end.  We made gingerbread houses while watching “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and drinking/eating frozen egg nog.  We went to watch my Dad’s blues band play, and my sister Nina got up there and played a few songs on the bass.  My sisters, my Dad, and I went to the tide pools, something we used to do together every Sunday when we were little.

My sisters at the tide pools

I love the smell of the Christmas candles.  I love all the flowers people brought to the house.  I love being around my sisters because they are so great at appreciating the little things and living in the moment.

Happiness is not all about having you want; it’s more important to want what you have.  We have to get off this aspirational treadmill on which we’re constantly focused on getting something else or doing something else.  We must learn to appreciate what we do have and depreciate nothing.  How do we do this?  We make a decision in the moment to react differently.  To choose to see challenges as opportunities for growth.  To notice smells and colors.  To look up at the sky.  To really see the leaves of a tree moving in the wind.  That sort of thing.

Gratitude will help us increase our positive emotions and decrease the negative ones.  Being grateful brings us back to the moment.

My Mom wrote me a letter in the early hours of this morning and put it on the kitchen counter for me.  I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what she said, and I think it would helpful for someone else to read it.  I won’t put all of it down, just some excerpts.

Dear Natalie,

… You and your sisters find your joy in completely different places.  For you, as you have stated, your “stoke” is in surfing.  You take great satisfaction from the competition, the thrill, the mastery of using your body, mind, and spirit to completely engage in sports you love.  I think these would include surfing and skiing.  Please no more skateboarding…I can tell you that if you follow your joy, be the person who you truly are… you will find happiness in life.  Adversity is unavoidable in even the most privileged of lives.  Expectations set us up for resentment, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy.  Celebrate your successes… Listen to your heart.  Trust that there is a plan for you in this life, remember how much you have accomplished thus far.  You are and will always be my hero.  My baby that could run down a field against girls with large sticks trying to get her, and now the one that I saw swim out in freezing water for over an hour, searching for the good wave.  You are a tough cookie.  Tough cookies don’t crumble (well maybe sometimes).  I am so proud to be your Mom… Thank you for being who you are.

I love you with all my heart.  I pray every night for your life to unfold but it will happen in God’s time.  Expectations are the enemy.  Try to expect nothing and you will always be pleasantly surprised or at least not devastated.  That does not mean don’t do your best, but we have no control over people, places, and things, only over our own decision about how to react and think about them.  Take pride in who you are… Make yourself happy first as long as that happiness is not at the cost of someone else’s.

You were right when you endorsed random acts of kindness on your blog.  The greatest happiness always comes from giving to others.  Even the simplest act – a compliment, a smile, and telling a mom her kids are beautiful, will bring more serenity and joy to your heart than a $1,000 Nordstrom gift card.

I love you because you are my Natalie.  I will always help you if you need me.  Do the right thing.  Keep your expectations to a minimum which does NOT mean you should not pursue your dreams and fight on, as only you can do.  It means be grateful for what you receive in this world, even if its not what you expected.  It is usually exactly what you are supposed to have at the point in time.

All my love –

Mom

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2 thoughts on “Counting Our Blessings

  1. Love this!! You are such a gifted writer. Like many, life hasn’t always been easy for me. I live with the attitude that “All is Well”. In that space— there are joys, sorrows, blessings, challenges, happiness, giggles, tears, defeats, and hope. I have accepted it’s really OK to express all the myriad of emotions, be myself, look at my contributions, constantly and intentionally create each day, be open to and for it all. Your mom’s letter is beautiful and so true. She loves you fiercely. How lucky and blessed you are to have your terrific family. You are truly surrounded by love and I sense you get that in this entry. I hope to come to San Diego in 2013 and would love to watch you surf:) Love to you, Aunt Carol

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