A little story about me... at various times in my life, I've had issues with depression. I believe, but may be wrong here, that I was only ever officially diagnosed with depression in childhood, and that ever after--those times I bothered to see someone, that is--it was always called something else, like adjustment disorder or something like that. Regardless, I was given absolutely no coping strategies as a child, no tools of self-awareness so that I wasn't caught broadside later on, nothing helpful at all. (Whatever issues I still have with THAT whole experience, we'll leave out.) But that's not the story I'm telling you. This story takes place in my very early 20s, beginning with my senior year of college.
I was living a 45-minute drive away from my university and commuting each day. My job--one of them--was almost as long a drive in the opposite direction, which means my job--one of them--and my classes were nearly as far apart from each other as you can get in this, the smallest state. I was living by myself in a really cute apartment--I'll give it that--but before that, I'd been living with a boyfriend, and the not-living-together had not been my choice. My apartment, which admittedly was really very cute, was in an old, old house, and when the winter winds blew they moved my curtains, because the windows were drafty and the house had no insulation. My heating bill was about $150 per month (in the early 90s!) and that was just to stay alive, not be warm or anything. Gas was cheap then, so I'd get into my car and drive around just to run the heat. It's good gas was cheap, because I was spending an awful lot of time driving: back and forth to work, or other work, or, for a time, other work--for a stretch there I had three jobs--and back and forth to school, where I was carrying full-time credits while, at times, working 30 hours per week.
I was sad. I was cold. I was exhausted. Sometimes, driving back to the city from class, I'd approach the infamous (around here) Thurbers Avenue curve and think, If I just got into a little accident, I'd get to rest for a little bit, and the hospital would be warm, and they'd feed me. Okay, I thought this more than "sometimes." And lack of coping strategies or not, I knew this wasn't a good thing. So I decided I would notice at least one thing each day that made me happy and write it down. It could be a small thing, but I had to notice it, and I had to write it down. I wrote down things like "had a dollar to get coffee between work and school" and "buds on the trees" and "the snow is melting" and "got a letter from a friend today." (Remember when decent coffee cost a dollar? Remember when letters came in the mail?)
This was almost two decades ago (lordy, I'm getting old). Before the Internet blew up, before self-help books everywhere, before Dr. Phil Bobby Oz Joe Smith was on every talk show. I don't know where this idea came from. I think the universe took pity on me and stuck it in my head, and luckily, I listened. Writing down happy things is not a substitution for high-powered tools against depression; I'm not saying that at all. But it got me looking up and out, out at the world around me rather than down and in, trudging through the same up early, to work, to school, to work again, cold, tired, to bed, start all over again rhythm of my days.
You know what? I graduated from college and got a job...waitressing full time. I was still cold in the winter, I was still tired, I still got sick a lot, I had no sick days, and a run of bad winter weather on weekends could blow up my budget. I still felt it necessary to write down my happy things.
After a while the habit became so ingrained that I didn't have to write them down anymore, although I periodically returned to it when I felt the need. I do, I do, I do notice the small things. The small things are the happy-making things. The things right in front of your face. Oh, big things make me happy too. I am, daily, grateful for this life, this normal, regular life, with a husband and three kids and money for coffee whenever I want, plus books and yarn and art supplies and fun extras for the children. Imagine! For years I couldn't imagine any of that. I am deeply thankful. But I believe noticing the small things leads to contentment.
True: One day, with my third baby strapped to my chest (because she wasn't happy and wouldn't sleep anywhere else), I achingly, carefully knelt down to fold another basket of laundry. I am grateful we have a working washer and dryer, I thought. I'm thankful I'm not worrying about how to pay for new clothes when my kids outgrow these.
Do I sound like Pollyanna? I'm not. I'm cynical and sarcastic and yell too much and I'm tired all the time, still. I read that book as a kid. I wanted to be that good. I'm not. But I try to take notice. If the small things don't create happiness, you know, the big things won't either, because nothing will ever be big enough. That's my guess, anyway. And some days (like yesterday), the first happy thought that comes to mind is "I'm glad this day is over."
Yes, I'm writing down my happy thoughts again...because the Squam store offered these beautiful gratitude journals and I couldn't resist.
And even though I'm in the habit of noticing throughout my day, I like the idea of writing it down again, so I can look back at all my happy-making moments.
And that is my story of learning the habit of noticing the small moments that create a contented life.
How about you? Do you have a similar habit?