Once upon a time, I thought I had it all figured out. I saw our world like it was, not like those people who were looking at the world through their rose colored glasses. Life was a battle. People were mostly bad. And anyone who thought differently was clearly delusional.
It was a cynical way of walking through life, sure, but I would have said it was the realistic way. I was preparing myself for the inevitable disappointments and failures, to be cut by the harsh edges of others without bleeding out. I felt like I was wearing the rock hard armor we all ought to be wearing to make it through unscathed.
And then I had kids.
It turns out kids have this remarkable ability cut through that armor with softness, no edges required. Maybe it makes more sense to say they dissolve it. Not all at once but little by little, my armor disappeared until I was left facing the world naked and afraid.
The world wasn’t a less frightening place at that point. In fact, it was terrifying to contemplate walking through it with a piece of my heart outside of my body, as Elizabeth Stone so eloquently described motherhood.
My rock hard armor was gone and it wouldn’t have been big enough for two anyway. My cynicism was no longer a comfort but rather a weakness. I was defenseless and as far as I could tell there was only one avenue open to me.
I had to evolve my worldview to find the beauty in everything I’d once written off as a crutch other people used to cope with the bleakness of life. Because frankly, my cynicism was just as myopic as the view through those rose colored glasses I’d looked down on. One way or another we were making a choice… to focus on the bad or the good, the fear or the hope, the belief that a better day is possible even after the bad ones.
Let me tell you something – that didn’t come naturally to me, a born pessimist and a worrier on top of that.
But when I looked into the eyes of my baby daughter, who is growing into a beautiful soul more apt to look on the brighter side of life, and then my baby son, I knew I had to make the change. I couldn’t walk through the world without protection but the protection I’d had was slowly but surely being eroded.
What does gratitude have to do with it? Everything. Focusing on the positive is a choice that requires gratitude – and not just gratitude on Sundays or when something grand has happened, but thankfulness for the everyday little things that make life worth living.
Like the flowers that bloom every spring in my garden with hardly any help from me.
Like a really great latte that I made myself.
Like the fact that we have our health and a pantry stocked with not just food but the sort of food we like to eat.
Like the fact that when the kids need new sandals I can order our favorites.
And other things like that, some of which cost money and some of which don’t. What they all have in common is that they are easy to ignore in light of the negative stuff we deal with every day as moms and as people. Just like when we’re constantly assaulted with stories of crimes and injustice, it’s easy to ignore how many wonderful people there are in the world. All the wonderful people who are in my life right now.
Regularly recognizing all the good in my own life helps me to tip the scales in favor of optimism so I can see all the good in the world. And when I can see how much good there is in the world, I am arming myself against the power the bad used to have over me.
The trick (and the thing that makes me a better mom) is not just recognizing it but sharing it. Instead of complaining on social media, I laugh and hope others will laugh with me. I post the happy stuff. The beautiful stuff. I look for opportunities to take photos of my family and then I regularly scroll back through those photos on days when gratitude is tough. It helps because looking at pics of us smiling while we make a cake or taking yet another trip to the zoo reminds me that life’s not all struggle and strife.
Do I succeed in living gratefully every day? Of course not. But I can tell you that I’ve seen a change in my moods and my attitudes since giving gratitude a try and that’s really all I can ask for. Not perfection, but progress, and the ability to see and to show my children that it really is a very beautiful world.