We spend a lot of our adult lives learning how to tell people that we want things to change.
We go on training at work about how to give feedback. We listen to radio phone-ins about how to ask fellow commuters to be more considerate. We read agony aunt column after agony aunt column about how to get our spouse to PLEASE JUST CHANGE THE TOILET ROLL FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE FOR THE LOVE OF ANDREX.
And whilst there is of course value in finding ways to make the imperfect better, my plan for 2020 is to spend more time pointing out the things that make me happy just as they are.
A couple of years ago I started keeping a gratitude list. Every week I make a note of the things – big and small – that have happened that I want to remember and that prove that life is great. I’d seen somebody on Twitter recommend it, so I thought I’d give it a go, and it’s done me the world of good – not just because it’s healthy to be grateful for what you have, but because it’s made me realise what really matters to me.
I kept a list every week in my 2019 diary, and though the exact words differ from week to week, the same themes come up time and time again. Cuddles with my daughter. Seeing her laugh. Time chatting to my husband. Moments to myself to read or watch TV. A catch up with friends. A really excellent cake. A visit from my mum. Managing to stay awake throughout an entire film (this happened approximately twice in 12 months). Proof that I’m keeping my mental health in check. Space to do the work I want to do. Our home.
There are weeks when I’ve noted down special events – new exciting projects, birthdays, trips away – but most of the time, each item on the list is a reminder that it’s the simple things I’m most grateful for. It’s a written collection of all the day to day bits and pieces that could easily go unnoticed, but that are actually my favourite parts of all.
The importance of acknowledging the good became even more apparent to me last year when our daughter got a nasty eye infection. All of a sudden we were in paediatric A&E being told we’d be there overnight so that she could have antibiotics pumped into her little veins through an IV. We caught the infection straightaway and the necessary steps were taken, so all was largely fine, but it was also a bit scary. And it involved spending time in hospital, which is always difficult, particularly when children are involved.
All I wanted the entire time we were there was to go home and back to normal. It made me realise how much I loved our life and that all I need to be happy is to be free to live it, together.
And though that thought process wasn’t new, I wondered if I’d ever actually mentioned how much I liked things, just as they were. I KNEW I’d mentioned how much better life would be if only the bins were emptied more regularly and if we changed a lightbulb more than once every DECADE, but had I said: “Actually, everything we have is everything I want. Nothing else matters”? I’m not sure. So I started.
I’ve tried to take the time to stop and acknowledge when we’re having a nice time, and to tell my husband and my daughter how much I enjoy our time together. I’m an organised person, so I spend most of my time living in the future, planning for the next meal I need to cook, groceries I need to buy, or stain I need to try and fail to remove. And though the world must keep turning, I don’t want to forget to engage with what’s happening now. I don’t want happiness to be something I only recognise retrospectively – I want to notice it in the moment. The future will be here soon enough.
We’ve tried to make it the norm as a couple for us to tell each other when we’re struggling. We let each other know how we’re feeling, we talk about why that might be and what (if anything) can be done, and then we try to move on. It’s not about brushing tough stuff away, quite the opposite. Discussing hard times is as normal as chatting about what’s on TV, so the hurdle isn’t finding the courage to bring it up, but figuring out how we can tackle it together.
And I want it to be just as normal to chat about what’s great. It’s not about living some smug, insufferable life where we pat ourselves on the back all day long, it’s just about making sure we don’t forget that we’re lucky to have each other and that we’ve not forgotten the time when all we wanted was everything that we’ve got now.
My husband reminds me regularly of this Kurt Vonnegut quote, which I love: “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
So that’s what I’m trying to do, this year and beyond. Notice. Life can be incredibly difficult. Surprising in glorious ways, and shocking in others. So the least we can do is acknowledge when it’s good, and let the people around us know how happy they make us.
And I’ll be keeping up with my gratitude list too. Stopping to note down the funny, touching, meaningful joys I’ve taken from each day is the cheapest form of therapy I’ve ever known, and I strongly recommend it. And it’s a lovely thing to look back on at the end of the year, too.
So that’s my intentions for 2020 officially documented, and I’d love to know what yours are, too. Happy New Year.