This past autumn Marco was a bit down. He had a mountain of work to catch up on after being gone for a month and a half (Italian august holidays plus honeymoon). He had been sick for nearly the same amount of time. He was, quite literally, sick and tired, and it wasn’t helping his mood. So I forced him to go on a walk with me.
We went to the enormous and beautiful Park of Monza, conveniently only 10 minutes from our house, and on the walk I asked him to list ten things he was grateful for. I know what you’re doing – like Marco, you’re sighing and wishing I would shut up. But, I’m nothing if not wildly annoying and eventually he gave in. Each thing on his list was met with a “why?” from me or a “can you explain more?” The thing is, it helped. Saying out loud ten very real things that are great in your life is healing. It’s not just me who thinks so: study after study agrees.
All of the positive feedback I received from sharing my recent birthday list inspired me to do it again for the new year.
Instead of beating ourselves up, why don’t we celebrate our successes? Instead of goals, why not accomplishments? Instead of starting a new year with stressful resolutions, how about honoring the past year with a moment of gratitude?
In the past year I got married (again), traveled enough to have taken 20 different planes, stabilized a bit more my job situation (more or less…) and celebrated my 25th birthday with family and friends in both Italy and America.
I also had to come to terms with my father’s passing in October.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve yet come to terms with it, but I do know that I’d like to go forward with positivity. I’d like to be happy, and the best way I know to do that is through gratitude. It is difficult to be grateful after a death, but I’m blessed enough to have plenty of things to add to the list despite my family’s profound loss.
2015 was a big year, and I’m grateful for so many things:
1. My legs
I’m thankful that I don’t have any injuries, that I can confidently take myself to work by bike, go for walks along the river and, if I wanted to, run to stay in shape and ease stress. Though I’m thankful for all my health, in particular for my legs. They take me up mountains or simply to the grocery store and though they’re short, I love them.
2. The sun,
Which was out in full splendor this past autumn in Italy. The mild temperatures and bright, clear days helped make a difficult period logistically easier. In a time when my heart ached to be home, the same rays shining on my family were shining here on me. Now that the shortest day of the year is past, I’m looking forward to seeing the sun a bit longer each day that passes.
3. The ability to fly back home so often,
Especially when my father passed. In big moments of our lives, petty finances are the last thing anyone wants to think about. This past year Marco and I both flew back to America a whopping three times. It wasn’t easy, both physically and financially, but the most important thing was that we were able. When my dad died, we jumped on the earliest flight home possible. A big part of moving to Italy was the mindset that I could come home “whenever I wanted.” I was never sure if that was actually true, but after this past season I know that at least for now, it is.
4. Our honeymoon
Weddings are incredibly stressful, but the honeymoon that comes after more than makes up for it! Marco and I took advantage of the Italian custom of shutting down all office buildings for the month of August and my teacher schedule (school starts back up mid-September) to take a 3 week honeymoon (21 days to be exact). I’m well aware that not everyone is able to do this and wildly thankful that we were. We used our wedding money to fund it and explored a part of the world I’ve never seen before, touring Singapore; Yogyakarta, Java; Ubud, Bali and Gili Air Island, on a cultural whirlwind honeymoon. Though we worked incredibly hard to make it happen, there’s still the sense that the stars aligned just for our honeymoon. Whichever the case, I’m grateful.
5. My job
Ok I know this is a lame one, but because of terrible contracts and no freelancer protection, I nearly began this school year without a job. I came back from our honeymoon to the news that I could know longer work in the position I’ve had for the past two years, that I’d no longer have the same students with whom I’ve developed a relationship. I was devastated. Not only that, but I found myself stuck in the middle of a battle between schools that I had no power over. Though I lost over a month of work, I eventually regained my same position. Now I’m happily working in a familiar setting with familiar faces. I feel like I can really finish the work I started and watch as my student’s English level rises daily.
6. My students
I never planned on being a teacher, but with each year that passes I’m more and more attached. I’m more attached to the hours, the flexibility and the title, but I’m especially attached to the children. Each day they teach me something new. Each day they make me smile and when I returned to work after my father’s death they were my lifesavers. There’s a difference between being childish and childlike, and my kids help me to keep a childlike wonder in my life even as I celebrate more birthdays.
7. My kitchen
Not only because it’s freaking awesome, but because of all it contains. I fell in love with Marco over our long meals and on lucky days, we’re able to recreate those long meals in our own home. Perhaps my favorite moment of the day is sitting at the bar with my coffee, enjoying the sun streaming through our southern facing windows. Extra points if I spot the neighbor’s tortoise crossing their yard! (I know, weird right? They also have a robot lawnmower…)
Flying to Italy isn’t cheap, so it’s even more exciting that this year we already have not one, but two planned visits from American friends! This July my college roommate will be flying out to stay with us and tour northern Italy followed by a visit from my other college roommate and her new husband in September – on their honeymoon no less! Of course we use the visits as an excuse to explore Italy, but I’m most excited for some much-needed girl time and the chance to show my friends a bit more of my life here in Italy.
9. My bed
Inevitably, my bed makes it on any gratitude list I’ve ever made. I even wrote an ode for my bed in my high school creative writing class. (It sucked, but the thought was there.) It has always been a safe space for me and even now as an adult after a long day my first thing I do to feel better is lay down for five minutes in bed. The thing is, I love my bed. I spent a lot of years on dorm beds and free hand-me-down college beds, so my first adult bed is highly appreciated. I love to travel, but there’s nothing like coming home to sleep in my very own bed!
10. Hand-written letters
Now that I live far away, hand-written letters have become even more present in my life. Naturally, it began with postcards. These classic travel companions are fun to send and fun to receive. I still remember how exciting it was to get our first letter at our new home. I have a friend who is always sending short letters with beautiful calligraphy and it’s inspired me to up my letter writing game. Now I continue the tradition for holidays, for the joy of my niece and nephew and, of course, for my grandmother, who doesn’t have email. Also let’s not forget the good old thank you letter. I don’t know when they went out of style but I spent too many birthdays and christmases with my mom breathing down my neck about it to lose the habit so quickly! What better way to show my thanks and love than a classic, old-fashioned, snail-mail letter?
The trick that day in the park with Marco was to not go just for the big things (health, family, friends) but to dig into the details of what in those big things we are specifically thankful for in that moment. It helped Marco’s blood pressure in that moment, and the fact that he shared it with me helped mine as well. I know it’s a cliché with the new year, but that’s why I’m also thankful for this blog, because I can do with it whatever I want!