I was driving home the other day, late in the afternoon, when I felt the need to pull to the side of the road. Ahead was a magnificent sunset. Rays of yellow streaked seamlessly into an orange burst that led to a wide red line that stretched across the horizon. Framing all this were the trees in their late fall glory, each melding their individual tones into a multi-colored panorama that was so beautiful it actually stirred my soul.
The elation didn’t last long. By the time I got home, I began to sulk. I ached to see these twilight sights from the convenience of my house, but it faces south so I never get to see the sunsets from there. Since I work from home and this late day excursion was rare, my mood turned into a feeling just short of despair. There was no solution to this. I certainly couldn’t move my house’s orientation. It was impractical to drive around every day to seek this illusive image, either, as there was no guarantee of such majestic vistas, given the capricious nature of our daily weather.
Before I drove myself into a negative spiral, I took a step back. I’ve done enough work on myself to realize that my feelings had nothing to do with the state of the sky. That would be just plain greedy on my part. The views from my house are actually incredibly beautiful, one of the reasons my husband and I chose this parcel of land years before we were able to build on it. At that time, we were young and living in New York City, and weekend days camping out on our hillside were mini-vacations I still cherish to this day.
After some meditation and musings I chalked up my upset to a need to have it all. I saw something I wanted and decided that not having it meant there was a deficit in my life. And not being able to have it whenever I wanted it only cemented that feeling of lack inside me. But looking at this thought in the light of day made me realize how inane that feeling was, a silly story I told myself to feed some temporary need to feel sorry for myself. My life wasn’t less worthy because I didn’t view sunsets every day. Conversely, being able to have these views all the time wouldn’t make a difference either. Not in the long term, anyway.
By putting such a temporary premium on what I’d witnessed, I had discounted all the riches I already have in my life. I’ve been blessed with much and have worked hard to earn the rest. My failing that day was in not appreciating this. Once I reminded myself of everything that was right in my world, the feeling of lack disappeared, or at least got put back deep in the recesses of my brain, where it could lie harmlessly.
I’m not alone in this. From time to time, we all see something we want so much and can’t have and put such a premium on it that we forget all the good things in our world. It’s so common an emotion that eons ago someone came up with a phrase for it: The grass is always greener on the other side. I do it more often than I care to admit. I’m a sucker for sweaters, and when see a sweater online I like, I tell myself I have to have it, that there’s a space in my life that needs to be fulfilled with this hunk of wearable wool. This, even though my closet is overflowing with sweaters, some of which I haven’t worn in years.
I do it in more serious areas, too. I get a feeling of envy sometimes when I see the accomplishments on my friends’ Facebook. I’m happy for them, sure, but it also makes me look at where I am and feel that I haven’t done enough or even much to crow about. This isn’t fair either to me or to my friends. While that empty feeling impels me to create and do more with my life, it also doesn’t allow me the space to appreciate what I have accomplished. It’s important to remember that and to be grateful for the life I have chosen to live.
This brought to mind an exercise I learned several years ago, a way of performing a mental self-inventory. The idea is to go back several months and make a list of all the things you’ve done. The first time I did this, I got a shock of surprise, taking stock of articles I’d written or people I’d helped or positive experiences I’d had. Some of them would have been forgotten if I hadn’t taken the time to look back and acknowledge these achievements. Being able to celebrate them helped me remember the truth of who I am and had the side effect of putting a smile on my face.
Sometimes, when you take the time to reflect on the good and express thanks for the positives that surround you, you get a little bonus. That happened to me this morning. It’s usually light out when I get up, but with the change of season, I woke up to a magnificently beautiful sunrise, with a line of bright red sandwiched between the multi-hued landscape and gray clouds above. Not quite like the sunset I’d witnessed, but equally as satisfying.
I knew then it was going to be a great day.
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