Life is suffering. Buddha says it, and probably a bunch of other smart people. And it’s true all humans will suffer. We feel rejection, loss; we lose someone we love; people will treat us unkind or unfair. Life will most certainly come with a buttload of pain.
When Ben Franklin said, “Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes.” He totally forgot suffering. Though maybe taxes, death, and suffering would be a bit too dark.
Everyone can trade war stories about how life has screwed them over. They vary in degree but we all have them. And they are nice to share sometimes. To commiserate and realize that you are not alone. That we are all suffering. My own childhood was marred with divorce, low income, and mental health issues. But it was also filled with two parents who loved me the best way they could, a neighborhood that banded together, parents who believed in causes and fought for them. Sometimes it’s about perspective.
I could describe the same childhood in two very different ways. Both would be true. And though it’s important not to ignore the pain, it’s also important not to let it define you.
Often I hear people tell stories about how they were screwed over and then that’s it. That’s the end of the story. There is no desire to change the circumstance, instead the circumstances defines them. It’s true that you don’t get to choose the cards you were dealt, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for new cards or play the hell out of the cards you have. What I’ve learned is how you look at challenges ends up being what defines you. Not the challenges themselves.
And though life will come with suffering, it will also come with a buttload of love. A lot of tiny moments of joy and laughter and peace. The problem with these tiny moments is we often don’t see them. The moments when you are able to listen to your kids laugh and dance, moments spent reading or sitting or just having a cup of coffee. All these moments matter. Tiny, beautiful moments happen everyday but it’s up to us to recognize and appreciate them.
That said, I still cringe a bit when people say they “practice gratitude”; to me it feels like this unattainable state of bliss and happiness. My dad is someone who tends to talk in extremes and will say that he is in a state of “euphoric bliss.” I have very few (if any) moments of euphoric bliss. I do have a lot of quite moments of joy. I have a lot of moments when I get a unexpected hug from daughter or my favorite Yasso bar is in stock. I get trips to Target when I get to look at adorable reasonably priced children’s clothes and drink iced coffee. I have a husband who loves me and even if I screw up, he will always be on my side. I have friends and books and art and Judge Judy.
These moments are beautiful, but also totally invisible until you look for them. Making the effort to look is something I’m trying to get better at. We do a thing in our house called “The Three Things,” where basically we write down three moments of joy that happened to us that day. It’s a great reminder to look for the small moments and appreciate them. (Note: I didn’t think of this Sheryl Sandberg talk about it on Super Soul Sunday and she said it’s the simplest and most effective way to change your life and really she knows what’s up way better than I do.)
It’s funny that as we get older we tend to mourn the things we lost. I look at old pictures of college and think of lazy days of day drinking and having all your friends be your neighbors and the freedom and friendships that were so easy and fun. College was an incredible time.
Except when it wasn’t. There were hangovers and heartbreak. It’s easy to romanticize the past. The brain forgets trauma. (That’s why woman have more then one kid.) As a society, we tend to think of our youth as our glory days. But what if they’re not? What if it’s right now. With all the stress of small kids; the tantrums, the laundry, the fact that I haven’t had a hair cut in ages. I’m not at my prettiest. I’m not at my thinnest. But I am at my happiest. I have small kids that are so funny and sweet, I have my health and my parents and my husband’s parents who are alive and love me and love my children.
I saw a meme recently with Andy from The Office and it said, “I wish there was a way to know when you’re in the good ol’ days before you actually left them.” It hit me kind of hard that these are my good ol’ days.
Turns out the good ol’ days don’t happen at a certain time in your life. They happen when you appreciate your life and surround yourself with people you love and people who make you laugh. Having this time to spend with my kids and my friends and family, this is it, these are my glory days. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
Except I seriously need to get a hair cut.