How I found happiness on a disaster day
You know those total disaster days – the kinds of days where it feels like nothing is going right and everything is stacked against you? I’m having one of those days. But would you believe that I feel genuinely happy?
I was having one of those days.
Friday morning, Michael (my youngest) woke up with a fever of 99 degrees. We gave him Tylenol and sent him to daycare, knowing that daycare would call and send him home. (Yes, I’m one of those parents who sometimes gives Tylenol and sends my kid to daycare).
I frantically ran around to pack and clean up before I headed to the airport at 8:30 am to catch a flight. My flight was delayed by an hour while we sat on the tarmac.
I landed and had a voicemail from daycare to pick up Michael and multiple text messages from my husband that he was on his way to the doctor to get Michael checked out. He was going to get Michael. Michael looked terrible. His fever was 102.5. He had another ear infection.
I waited for my boss whose flight was also delayed. We arrived at our meeting late. I had dinner with my boss and have a lot of emotions going on – it’s the first time I’ve seen her since I found out that my counterpart at work is paid 47% more money than me. I don’t yet know what I want to say to my boss about it, so I didn’t bring it up, but it was definitely on my mind.
I stayed overnight and woke up to an email that my flight was cancelled. I rebooked onto a new flight and went to breakfast. On my walk there, I got another email that my new flight was delayed by 2 hours. I won't get home until 4:30pm (I was originally scheduled to land before 11am).
Meanwhile, back at home Michael woke up twice at night and it's his first birthday. Yes, his first birthday and I'm not there.
Obviously this is not an ideal 24 hours. It's never fun when kids are sick, you feel so bad for them and it is so disruptive to existing plans. Flight issues can be so frustrating and make you feel powerless. And Michael will only have one first birthday.
So how do you think I'm feeling?
I feel amazing. For a while I felt bad that my husband had to take care of both boys by himself, but I do it all the time and so can he. Plus, it's good for them to see him taking care of everything. Yes it sucks that the first flight was delayed, but I wrote drafted three documents for work and brainstormed a lot of ideas for Balancing Bravely. It was a good flight. The cancelled and delayed flights today made me feel pangs of anxiety, but when I step back and think about it, hidden in this unfortunate event is a great opportunity. Time for myself. I have 2 kids, a husband, a job, I'm exploring next career steps (possibly starting a new consulting company), and building Balancing Bravely. I don't get a lot of time to myself, and when I do, it's in defined chunks, normally for a specific self-care activity. Today, I have 9 hours by myself!!!!
I went for a long walk, I had a lovely breakfast by the ocean, I called my parents and a girlfriend, I went to a museum, now I'm sitting in a coffee shop until I head to the airport, where I will write more blog posts or brainstorm what it would mean to quit my job and start a consulting company, or possibly reply to some emails from friends.
Gratitude in action
How did I get to this place? How was I able to find the silver lining? I started practicing gratitude. Over 3 years ago, I started a long, slow journey to be more grateful.
Most of the things in life that we get upset about are totally out of our control, but make us really unhappy. Kids getting sick, delays, traffic, weather... Instead of being frustrated and angry about what has happened in the past 24 hours, I'm grateful.
I'm grateful for my husband, because he is great at taking care of our boys and now has this special chance to take care of both of them at the same time.
I'm grateful that Michael just has an ear infection, because yesterday I met with parents of children who have serious chronic illnesses, and this ear infection will pass.
I'm grateful that I have time to myself, because it really helps me reset, and when my mind has time to wander, I get my best ideas.
There is so much in life that is out of our control and if we get upset by it, we are playing a game we are bound to lose. You will never be able to control the weather, when people get sick, traffic, flight delays... So what can we do, we can step back, take a deep breath and think about the big picture in this situation, and start listing the things we are grateful for.
When I first started to practice gratitude, it was hard – really hard. I was in the middle of recurrent miscarriages and fertility challenges. But in time it became natural to be grateful in unexpected ways. I didn't even have to think about finding the gratitude in this situation. Those were the thoughts and emotions that emerged naturally. I only noticed that this reaction is different than what I would have done just a few years ago when a girlfriend sent an empathetic text message, when I told her my flight was cancelled and then delayed. I didn't get what she was being empathetic about at first, because I'm feeling great, sitting in a coffee shop, looking at the beautiful weather, enjoying my coffee, grateful to have time to myself.
How you can start your gratitude journey right now
Practicing gratitude is amazing. It’s easy to do, it takes less than a minute, and it has been proven to change people’s happiness levels.
Write down 3 things that you are grateful for, using this template:
1. I am grateful for _____________, because ___________________.
2. I am grateful for _____________, because ___________________.
3. I am grateful for _____________, because ___________________.
Adding that “because” is essential – research shows this is what makes us happier, not just being grateful but recognizing why we are grateful. The 3 things I’m grateful for above present my “because” statements. You can do it every day and shift your mindset! Why wouldn’t you want to spend one minute to be happier?
So what are you grateful for today?