Most people define their lives by milestones – degrees, jobs, relationships, trips – but what about all the other parts of life? Those milestones only make up a tiny percentage of our lives and although the feelings produced by them might be amazing, there are so many other little things in life that give us joy and they never get any credit. Yet those are the things that really make up our lives, and the cumulative effect of enjoying them can have a better impact on our lives than any one singular incredible moment.
This is my ode to the little feelings –
The feeling of taking off my makeup after a long day
The feeling when my head settles into that perfect spot on my boyfriend in between his chest and shoulder
The feeling of that first sip of cappuccino when the warmth spreads through my body on a cold morning
The feeling of unwrapping a perfectly wrapped present
The feeling of a good hug with someone you haven’t seen in forever
The feeling of being completely spent after a hard workout (or great sex)
The feeling of baking under the sun on the beach
The feeling of climbing into a bed made up of freshly washed sheets
The feeling you get watching someone’s face light up when they see something new they love
The special feeling when someone else’s fur baby comes up to you and can’t get enough
Everyone has their own little feelings that make them happy so I hope you take the time to enjoy them at the moment and don’t always let them pass by unappreciated. Life is made up of little moments and if we just look at them as filler in between the big stuff, then we’re missing out on a whole lot of goodness.
Even though Canada had their Thanksgiving over a month ago, I still subscribe to the U.S. schedule. As such, it’s only fitting that I talk about gratitude this week. Gratitude is something I have only lately learned to practice (as in, the last year or so), and now it has become both my best friend and my worst enemy. Gratitude, as defined by Webster’s, is as follows: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. So let’s start with that.
I never used to be consciously thankful. I would, of course, say please and thank you during interactions and I would profusely thank a friend or family member when they came through for me, but I never actively practiced being grateful every day, and for things that weren’t dependant on other people doing something that served me.
However, recently I heard the notion that when you are being truly grateful for something, there’s just no space for any negative emotions at that moment. I like to think of it this way – when you’re being grateful, you’re starting from the bottom and exceeding your expectations. If I say I’m grateful for my healthy hair, I’m simply being grateful I have hair at all, and that it is healthy. Anything above that is like sprinkles on the sundae. On the other hand, if you’re happy or pleased with something, it’s like going from the top down. If I say I like my hair, that opens me up to being jealous of someone else’s hair or finding small flaws with my own because even though I’m happy with it, I am not grateful for it, so there’s always room for improvement in the mind.
In any case, gratitude is something that has eluded me lately as I’ve gotten increasingly overwhelmed with work, family, other obligations, friends, and my own loneliness. And on top of any personal anxiety I feel, there’s also the fact that the last two mass shootings in the states were in places mere steps away from loved ones, the area I spent my most formative university years has been scorched by fires, and now when I travel to San Francisco each week for work, the city is choked with smoke.
So it’s been hard to feel grateful. As a response to all the strife above, I find myself becoming unappreciative, bitter, and looking at these as excuses to believe I deserve more. More family. More time with friends. More time with my boyfriend. More attention. More money. More time. More hobbies. More direction. More of an identity. Just more. Nothing feels satisfying right now and it’s a horrible, lost, and lonely feeling.
But when I step back and take a look at all of these through a lens of gratitude, I realize that’s not really fair. Not fair to myself, nor to anybody else I’ve been dumping this stuff on recently. Because there is a lot I should be grateful for and all of those things deserve credit as well.
I am grateful for the fact that no one I know was killed in either shooting. I’m grateful my university didn’t burn down in the fire. I’m grateful that my family is always there for me and always makes me laugh. I’m grateful that I have friends all over the world. I’m grateful that I’m physically healthy. I’m grateful for quiet nights with my boyfriend. I’m grateful I have a job that allows me to learn and pays me really well. And I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’m offered each year.
This may sound like I’m just saying we should simply “look on the bright side” but I’m not. I’m saying, no matter how much shit you have going on or how much you’re affected by the state of the world, there is always, ALWAYS something to be truly thankful for. Something as simple as a really good meal, or something as life-altering as getting that new job you were after. It can be so easy to fall into the spiral of wanting more or telling yourself you’ll be happy “as soon as I get ____”. But if we think that way all the time, we never escape. There will always, ALWAYS be more money to be earned, more time to be spent, or more joy to be found. So if you can’t even find it within yourself to be grateful for what you have right now, then when will you?
You wake up early, you’re completely refreshed. You stretch, get up, and get dressed. You walk down to your local café, passing by a newspaper stand on the way where you pick up a few of your preferred editions. You get to the café, grab a little table by the window for yourself and order a cappuccino with a chocolate croissant. As you pick through your order, you alternate your reading with casual observations of the people around you. Perhaps in a couple hours, your girlfriend meets you and you chat about nothing for an hour or two before returning to your apartment to make a simple tomato salad with fresh bread for lunch.
I don’t know about any of you guys, but that sounds like an amazing morning to me.
There’s a great scene in the movie Eat, Pray, Love (don’t ask me about the book), when Julia Roberts’ character is hanging out with her new friends in Italy and they are talking about how Italians have mastered a concept they call “the sweetness of doing nothing”. They explain that this concept is a worldview about how to enjoy oneself. Americans are shit at this, they say, because we have this need to always feel as though we are being productive. We can only take a break when we’ve supposedly earned it, and even then we still feel as though we should be doing something. In my example above, many people would feel that was a wasted morning. And if you did view it as relaxing, I doubt you’d pursue it because relaxing in the U.S. means vegging out in front of the TV for a few hours.
Because I’ve spent enough time in Mediterranean Europe thanks to my heritage, I believe that entire area of the world has one-upped America (and perhaps Canada now that I live here), in enjoying the simple pleasures of life. I’ve met Americans who claim to want the kind of morning I described above, but for most of them, this is just a fantasy. Sure, one could get up, go to the café, and read all morning, but unless they change their mindset, it would just be going through the motions. They would tell themselves, well I planned to go to the café today and read until 12. And they would do it, but there would be an element of dissatisfaction. They would be fulfilling yet another obligation that they’ve set for themselves, and what’s worse is that they might even feel as though there was something more productive they could be doing with their time spent at the café.
This is why Americans love multi-use products and activities. Killing two birds with one stone is a compliment. This is why we have supermarkets and malls whereas Greeks or Italians have to go to the fresh market, the bakery, and the butcher to get their groceries. This is why the economies of the two areas have inverse happiness ratings as compared to our economics. Over here we are obsessed with getting more done in a day. It’s a source of pride for some people to tell everyone else how busy they are and how many things they’re going to do that day.
I’ve had it. It’s so much unnecessary pressure to always be doing something. Furthermore, when you’re obsessed with always doing something, too often you end up burnt out. I want a happy medium. Perhaps, I will always err on the side of being busy since I am an American, but I want to become at peace with the idea of doing nothing. I’m only really great at doing this when I’m on vacation, but it’s because I’ve given myself over to a relaxed mindset, and I need to figure out how to incorporate this feeling into the everyday. Maybe it’s as simple as people watching out my window while I have my coffee, or going for a little walk, there’s got to be an easier way to live life than to be obsessed with productivity every hour of every day
As of last month, I hit my one-year mark of living in Calgary, Canada. This is the official conclusion to my moving to Canada series that has slowed down over the course of the year. I’ve spent a whole year residing here, picking up new hobbies, making new friends, and exploring. What did I learn?
Making friends, especially in a smaller city is HARD. Like BRUTALLY HARD. The thing is, in cities like LA, or New York, there are SO many people that aren’t from the surrounding area, that state, or even the country so you bond with other people that didn’t grow up there over your same ‘otherness’. In Calgary though, it’s smaller, so more people you meet are from the surrounding area or provinces. As such, there is a tribal knowledge that is tough to break into. This isn’t a dig at Calgary, I’m sure this would happen in any city of similar size. Everyone has gone to school together, or lived and worked there for years and they have all these little things that just don’t make sense to an outsider. Jokes about different parts of the city, a restaurant that used to be where that bar is, different sets of hobbies, etc. It’s one of those cities that you can walk around pretty much anywhere and bump into someone you know (to be clear, I am not a fan of this. I adore the anonymity in big cities). To truly fit in, would take a long while. I have done a good job I think, making friends, but more often than not, I still feel like I’m on the outside.
I also am having way more of an identity crisis than I bargained for. Before moving up here, I was pretty indifferent to being American. Honestly, I was a little embarrassed due to our incessant antics around the world. But since moving, I’ve become way more patriotic. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why, though. Since Americans and Canadians look and dress pretty much the same, I am often assumed to be Canadian and this irks me. Part of it is because I can’t help but compare the two countries since they are so similar but so different at the same time. The other part is because I think I’ve realized how much being an American is integral to my personality and the way I am, and I am intensely reluctant to give up that part of myself.
There is a certain comfort in things that are American versus Canadian for me. Like how everybody is so rude on the road in America. That might sound like a terrible thing, but I miss it. I miss talking about the audacity of American politics with people who don’t see the situation as an elaborate media joke. I miss the sheer amount of things to do in U.S. cities like Chicago and LA. Pop up shops, concerts, art shows – they never skip major U.S. cities, but they definitely skip Canadian ones. I miss the fact that everything is instantly at your fingertips in the states whereas in Canada the mail takes for fucking ever. I miss the intensity of ambition that is ever present in American cities whereas Canada is more laidback (I’d like to point out that this is most likely due to the fact that they have amazing benefits no matter your socioeconomic status so there’s not as much worry). But the point is I MISS IT. And right now, I’m not willing to let that part of me go.
So this is the struggle of identity I face now. How do I keep my American identity while still successfully assimilating in Canada? Is it even possible? Or must I say sorry to everything and sell my soul to the oil industry?
The thing is, Canada is great in many ways. Since being up there, I’ve learned a ton of new hobbies – skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking and I’ve learned to enjoy the outdoors a lot more. I’ve also really enjoyed being closer to my boyfriend, discovering cool parts of Calgary, and learning how to set up a life from almost nothing.
And maybe I only feel this way because I’ve truly only been halfway in this whole time. Due to my job, I’ve spent nearly the same amount of time outside of Canada as I have in it. How can I really be a good judge of the place when I’ve never worked there and only developed the bare minimum of a social life since I’m gone all the time? A terrible one probably.
But this is all I’ve got right now. I’ve tried my hardest to make the most of the situation, but I’m at a loss of how to continue this way. I have no roots in Calgary, but also not enough time there to plant any. In the same vein, turns out it is ridiculously hard to get a job in Canada as an American, and what’s more, is that Calgary doesn’t exactly align with my career interests.
But all of that aside, let’s say I got an amazing job in the city, and joined a bunch of things to meet people. The risk in the back of my mind is the feeling that I’d have to give some part of my identity up to be 100% happy up there versus clinging on to my familiar self and perhaps only ever being able to achieve 70% happiness. When is the proper time to allow yourself to change?
So many questions, so little answers. To help cope with this feeling of being in between, of being lost, I’ve dedicated a large amount of mental space to taking things one day at a time. Right now, I’m not moving anywhere different, and I don’t have another job on the table. So why drive myself nuts? The best I can do is navigate each day and ask myself what I can do to make myself as amazing as possible no matter where I am.
To catch up on my entire Canada series, you can start here.