How To Find Light in a World Filled With Negativity

I was going through the notes on my phone when I found one from October that had the title of this post, followed by a list:

Gratefulness.

Give back.

Don’t waste time on jobs, people, etc. who steal your happiness.

Plan trips.

Find your community.

I’m not sure what was going on the day or week that I wrote this down, but I’m happy I did. And I’m happy I came across it today. Do you ever find notes to yourself at just the right moment? It’s pretty fun, actually. Just leave random notes in your phone (or around the house — that’s even MORE fun), something obscure and ideally lacking context, and I bet when you find it, it’ll bring you at least a teeny bit of joy.

Anyway, for me, there’s always a period shortly after a new year, maybe a week or two in, when the shine of its novelty begins to wear off. The magic of a fresh start for New Years is so palpable, and it’s heartening and powerful to be entering a new phase with the entire world. There’s really no other time of year like January 1st, where everyone comes together to turn a page at once (or, you know, in their respective time zones).

But, after a while, that optimism of the new year slips back into the routine roll of things, and the new year doesn’t feel all that different than the previous year — except when you write the date, and, for the first four months of the year, you have to artistically morph “2017” into “2018.”

I’m not big into resolutions, but I think intentions for a new year are a healthy way for me, ever the obsessor, to approach goals. Rather than being so strict, aka “resolute,” with your goals, intentions allow some more flexibility with accomplishing them. So, it’s not like I go into the year hoping to quit watching TV, travel the world, and lose 20 pounds, and then get frustrated when none of those are achieved by January 10. (But sheesh, can you imagine the blog posts I’d need to write if that were the case?!)

It’s more that everything starts to go back to normal, and as a whole, we lose that excitement of starting anew once we’re a week or two into things. I know, I know… All the smart books and all the wise people say to find the warmth and good stuff in normalcy. If you can’t enjoy the mundane, then you probably won’t enjoy very much of life, since most of us aren’t constantly traveling, adventuring, and adrenaline-chasing. And honestly, I don’t even want all that! (I mean, yes, travel is nice, but I love my home, and sometimes the best part of travel is going home. You with me, homebodies/introverts/hermits?)

With my reckoning of embracing regular old life as we stride deeper into 2017 2018, finding a list I wrote to myself about ways to find levity — especially in a time of turmoil in politics, Hollywood (and regular) sexism, and abuse of power coming to light — was such a simple reminder to keep perspective, curate my own little joys, and find beauty in the everyday, even on days that seem less than thrilling.

Gratitude and graciousness aren’t an easy discipline to practice, at least for me, but are so life-changing once they become habitual. It’s the shift from, “My life is so predictable,” to, “How lucky am I to have a consistent jobs where I can write, be creative, get outside everyday, afford my lifestyle, and have major flexibility? I’m blessed to have a healthy body, the choice to workout and provide nourishing food for myself, and a lifestyle that keeps me active and moving. And thank God I have supportive family and friends all over the country who inspire and challenge me. And chips and queso.”

Even writing that out brings bliss to my heart. Both statements are true — sure, my life can be predictable, AND it provides me with everything I dreamed of five years ago, plus the opportunities to accomplish even more.

Gratitude prepares your mind and soul for the rest of the list, too. It provides perspective and faith in giving back, whether that’s with money or time. It helps you realize if you need to remove yourself from a situation that isn’t adding anything to your life. It allows you to look forward to treats, like vacation, with eagerness and thankfulness instead of guilt. It opens you up to new people and friends to build up the community surrounding you.

It’s everything. And the very, very, very best part is that it’s a mental choice that reaps incredible, tangible, real-life results. Note to self: That is a rad enough reminder to get me out of my post-New Years funk, and any others I encounter throughout the year.

The Big Ones: Major Lessons Learned in 2017

I’m not sure where I’ll be by the end of 2018. John will get his graduate degree in May, and while we are dying to stay in Nashville, it all depends on his job offers for now. With that uncertainty (which, to me, is actually kind of fun and thrilling) in mind at the close of this year, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on where 2017 has taken me.

We’ve been in Nashville since July of 2016, and even though I’m freelancing and nannying, I’ve never felt happier or more stable in my career. Even so, there has been a bunch going on. After turning 26 in November, I’m now officially past the mid-20s mark of 25; John and I have taken some huge relationship steps; I’ve traveled more than ever before; and HGTV has become one of my staple channels. I feel like I’m growing up and finally adopting this whole adult state of mind. (HGTV is obviously the biggest indicator.)

Life is in a really sweet spot right now. I know it absolutely won’t stay in this place, but for now, I’ll plan on savoring it. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from this year (and not all of them are pretty).

Things that I really, really want usually take time, persistence, or self-control. But usually, it’s all three.¬†Yeah, yeah, I should have already learned this by now. I did, but I felt like this was the year that I’ve really began to apply it regularly, especially since I’ve had so much more freedom and flexibility in my schedule. You’d think that would make getting things done easier, but really, it’s just highlighted my lack of time management skill. But, alas, I have gotten better! Small shifts help…

It’s giving up an extra hour-and-a-half of sleep some mornings to get to the gym because I’m working toward a goal of becoming stronger, and I know I won’t have the energy or drive to fit in a solid workout at the end of the day. It’s pre-making and packing lunches so I don’t Postmates a quesadilla and chips from down the street (although, some days, that’s just necessary). It’s forcing myself to brainstorm story and blog post ideas because I love to write and share stories, but I realize my consistency could use some work. It’s purposefully sharing compliments and kind words with strangers and people I love alike, since words of encouragement aren’t my strong suit but I know how powerful they can be.

I’m pretty horrible at handling conflict. Obviously no one is GOOD at conflict (unless you’re a lawyer or therapist, in which case that’s sort of your job to handle conflict well, or at least strategically). But I’ve always thought I’m more low-key and removed when it comes to conflict. It turns out…and this is embarrassing to admit…I can be a bit of a conflict instigator and very much so a passive aggressor. Ugh. I’m not saying I crave drama (unless it’s in a Bravo show, that is) in my life, but when there are bumps in the road, I’ve learned I’m not first to apologize or fix it. But I also don’t like things to fester.

So, instead of having a mature conversation with my conflict comrade right away, I dig in and direct subtle jabs their way (or go radio silent, another winning gem of a conflict tactic) until they’re forced to instigate a little chitchat with a not-so-fun version of me. I’m just going to chalk up this horrendous habit as something to recognize and work on shifting as we enter a new year.

Ideas that I create about my life will sometimes end up being so hilariously and completely wrong. I was once marriage’s biggest hater and naysayer. My parents had a gnarly divorce, so to save myself from what could be a similar fate, I decided marriage was not for me. A life partner would be cool, but I also figured I was pretty self-sufficient and independent enough to do this whole life thing on my own. And maybe, if I look extra deep inside my heart, I was also a little bit terrified that I’d never find anyone who would love me (and who I’d reciprocate those feelings for!) for an entire lifetime.

Low and behold, three-plus years into my relationship with John, I’ve learned I can be independent in a relationship, and also complement someone who is my equal, all at the same time. I haven’t made a true announcement on my blog yet, but we’re getting married next year! (CRAZY, right? Engagement story blog post, including all the mushy details, to come sometime in the near-ish future.) Five years ago, I would’ve laughed if God came down to tell me this would all happen. But I am so, so happy it has, and truly, I can’t wait to see what other things He proves me wrong about.

Worship is a necessity for my happiness. Whether it’s sitting in church, listening to God’s encouragement and words; laughing and coming together in prayer with my small group; or driving in my car, singing along (badly) to Hillsong United, there isn’t much that makes me full to the brim of pure bliss than soaking in God’s love. My small group was talking about love languages one night — mine is acts of service — and someone mentioned that, a lot of times, your love language can be applied to your relationship with God. I thought that was such a wonderful thought, and I realized it’s actually true for me.

Anytime one of my favorite songs comes on in the midst of a bad day, or a particularly stunning sunset makes its way through the clouds, or even if I happen to hit a bunch of green lights when I’m running late, I take those as little acts of kindness from God. They could simply be coincidence, but I don’t really think there’s such thing with Him. We’ll have to ask one day, but in the meantime, I always try to send up a little “Hey, thanks” to Him in those moments. Praise, mindfulness, and worship have shifted my life so much this year.

What were your biggest takeaways from 2017? How have you shifted and grown? I’d love to hear your stories from this year!