Today is Thankful Thursday, a day we focus our thoughts on giving thanks. By doing so, we contribute to our happiness. That’s what we all want anyways, right? To be happy? Yet, we have so many different theories on how to get there. Some believe in the acquisition theory: that if one has more things in this world, surely that guarantees happiness. And then others believe it’s all about power and control: the more you have of this, the more true happiness one attains.
Well, I’m from the camp that happiness is about gratefulness. And I don’t just say that because it’s a popular phrase right now. I say it because it was one of my saving graces when I was going through a real rough time. And if I can do that while broke with two kids and no family around, I know this strategy will help you too, whatever you are going through.
Many of my mom friends often tell me, “Cindy, I don’t know how you do it.” Or, I’ll hear, “...when I think I’m tired, I just think of you Cindy, and I can’t imagine how you must feel. And then I keep going.” Let me first say, I’m flattered to even be considered a mom-o-meter on anything. I’m simply trying to survive and make it like anyone else. Yes, I’ve been dealt a different set of cards this hand, but I’m making it work. One of the ways I’ve kept my head on over the past 5 years, is by appreciating what I DID have, not what I was missing.
Now, let me back up a little…I’m a mother of two wonderful girls, 6 and 4, living in New York City. I am originally from Chicago and take care of the girls on my own. Living away from family is super hard and something I didn’t even realize would be so difficult once I had kids. But then again, I really didn’t plan this whole thing out anyways. I had a career in Human Resources, making good money, but decided to take a career sidestep in order to spend more time with my kids and cut down on the amount of money I was paying someone else to raise my children. Besides, it was a lot on me to manage a career and raise my young children without much support. I made a decision for my quality of life.
After I left that “good paying job”, there was 9 months of unemployment, which in New York City, is ridiculous. Even when you make good money living in the big apple, it’s hard to financially get ahead here, let alone on unemployment??? Anyways, I had to grind..hustle..figure it out. Ego and pride had to take a backseat. During this time, I ended up falling behind on rent, asking friends for loans, I even cleaned houses and got food at the public recreational centers…anything to make ends meet for my kids. Now, if that isn’t being transparent for you, I don’t know what is. A neighbor told me I was losing weight during that summer. I replied, “You ever heard of the budget diet?”
While dealing with this season of unemployment I was still learning about motherhood: understanding the tantrums, the emotions, the nurturing involved. Sometimes, I was sick, taking care of the sick. Have you ever helped one kid with the stomach flu, caught the bug, only to turn around and help the other kid with the bug, and catch it again? Yes, viruses mutate! Anyways, to deal with the day-to-day life with kids and all the financial pressure at the same time was A LOT.
During this time, it was pretty easy to get down. I’m writing the ‘lite version’ of my struggle here. But some days felt too heavy for me to hold it together. I didn’t have much time without the girls, so I really didn’t have a moment to breathe or the freedom to have my own feelings. If I felt like crying, the tears had to wait. I hit some real low points during this time and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through this tough patch. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know if it would be considered depression or what. But it was real. And heavy.
But then I had a breakthrough: I may not be able to change my situation, but I can change my mind. You even see this transformative power in spiritual literature of many religions. I pretty much had nothing to lose here yet was fighting to save my sanity. One thing that kept me going was focusing my thoughts on gratitude. We didn’t have much, but you couldn’t tell us that. I promoted a personality of richness and wealth. I held my head up and put my shoulders back, and thanked God for everything I had. I had a home. I had healthy children (that counts for a least 100 reasons for which to be grateful). I had people around me who said yes when I asked for help. I had a car. I had time off with my children. I had access to a beautful park right across the street that was larger than Central Park. When I would have those days, with overwhelming thoughts of negativity, I would have to start my list of gratitude. I stopped my thoughts in their tracks, and shifted them to gratitude.
After time, the season shifted. I started to wake up lighter. I didn’t feel so heavy with the weight of the world. I had more peace in my storm. People would say, “Cindy, I don’t know how you are doing it.” The answer was, meditating my thoughts on thankfulness and prayer. Then, I got a job. I started to slowly pay people and bills back. The following year, I ended up with a tax return that was almost the total amount I owed people. Now if that wasn’t a sign that God’s got me, I don’t know what was.
Alll in all, it’s been a rough 5 years for me. My personal hardest. God is certainly grooming me for something magnificent. What I’m sharing in this post, is just a fraction of what I was dealing with during this time. I am always open to share and talk with people about “winning” the war…even if it’s the one in your own mind. Now that I have my head above water, I can look back and think about what helped me get though. Thankfulness is what helped me continue. It made it possible to struggle with a smile.
If you are in a place today that is difficult, start your list now. What are you thankful for? And just because you say thanks for things, doesn’t disqualify your pain or hardship. But what it does do, is help you cope with your season right now and alleviate the pressure on your mind, body and soul.
Here is a great resource for you too. It’s a Youtube video of a TedTalk by David Steindl about gratitude. Additionally, here’s another list of 20 Bible verses about thankfulness. Not pushing one faith over the other, just sharing resources that have helped me. Love you much!