As a new student and young father I had to work my butt off to keep up with school, family, work and all the other responsibilities that I had. I was working two part time jobs just to make ends meet and I was in school full time so I could graduate on time and move on to grad school. Times were tough and money was tight. I had to work hard just to keep my head above water. Some months we didn’t make it and had to go without some things. This was the hardest for me as a father. At these times I felt like a real loser and a failure. I felt like I wasn’t living up to my end of the deal in my family. Because money was tight, I had to make sure I stayed at the top of my class so I could go to a good graduate program that would allow me to demand a strong income in my first job. So I put a lot of time into studying. And in the mean time I put as much time into my two jobs as I could so I could pay the rent and buy diapers.
My daughter was less than a year old and didn’t know what our financial situation was. Being that young, she didn’t really care. But her big brown eyes and her innocence made me want to work harder at school and at work just to make sure that she would have everything she needed. My wife didn’t really care about our finances, either. Somehow we continued to get by. But for me it was miserable.
As a poor college student and young father working and studying so hard I found myself in the throes of a full blown, self-inflicted anxiety disorder. I had so many balls I was juggling at once that I planned my time in 15 minute increments. I developed a nervous habit of always checking my watch. Homework took about 2 hours a night - unless a paper was due then it was 2 hours and 45 minutes a night that week. It took about 15 minutes to drive to work. If I got a flat tire or someone showed up late to relieve my shift at work, I had to push back whatever family event was happening that weekend to make up for lost time. If I showed up late for work, it was X amount out of my paycheck (I knew exactly how much it was after tax back then) and I needed to make up for it by staying late. If there was a birthday (or, gasp, Christmas) that month I had to work a couple extra shifts and that meant I had to find time to my homework who-knows-when. I learned that necessities like sleeping and eating were really just added bonuses that people didn’t need that much of – or so I thought.
I was in the thick of things and couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hardly saw my wife and baby because I was too busy trying to provide for them. For me, life was work. And not the leisurely kind where you could browse your computer while you do it. It was hard, exhausting, and consuming. I had to get ahead and stay ahead. This is all I could see and it was going to be this way for a while – at least until I graduated grad school in a few years.
Fast forward a few years and thankfully I have overcome those feelings and thoughts that once consumed me. But it’s not because I finally made the income that I was aiming for – I haven’t. It’s because I deliberately let go of the pretension and consumerism and the constant striving to attain things and status.
Instead of waiting for someday to enjoy life I’m able to enjoy life’s moments as they come. I’ve slowed down, smelled the roses and am enjoying pieces of life one simple moment at a time. There were a lot of realizations that I had to come to during my journey In order for me to stop wishing for someday and enjoy the moments as they come. Perhaps the most important realization I had was the role gratitude plays in living a fulfilling and rewarding life.
Gratitude was what was missing.
As I was going through the throes of my anxiety and working my butt off for someday, I never gratefully appreciated the beauty that was around me. I was absorbed in living the American dream – an external standard that society told me I should be trying to attain, instead of looking inside myself and finding what would make me the most happy and bring me the feelings of satisfaction that are truly fulfilling for me. I thought that society would somehow magically give this to me after I achieved the status I was aiming for. But I realized that satisfaction isn’t given to you. I found it within myself through gratitude.
I realized that in my desire to achieve and always wanting more that I never noticed the great things that were around me and right in front of me. I would get stressed out when I got a flat tire and felt resentful that I didn’t have a better car instead of appreciating the fact that I had a car that could haul me at 65mph to wherever I needed to go. Sure, life isn’t all cherry drops and gum drops and I still have crap things that happen. But in the meantime, it’s gratitude that makes my life fulfilling and rewarding.
There are many gratitudes I discovered along the way that help me to find happiness no matter what my circumstances are:
- I’m grateful to live in a country where the bare necessities (water, electricity, etc) are easy to come by. I realize I’m very privileged to have this and I’m grateful for it.
- I’m grateful for poetry, music and art that give life its extra flavor.
- I’m grateful that poetry, music and art are free on the radio, TV and in secondhand books that cost pennies.
- I’m grateful for friends and family who love me for me. Who don’t care what I wear, what music I listen to or what income tax bracket I’m in. They simply love me for me and I love them for them. And together we have a friendship that’s more rewarding than prestige or monetary success.
- I’m grateful for a country that protects its citizens and has laws in place to help them achieve, succeed and live in safety.
- I’m grateful for children and their smiles that warm you up no matter how bad of a day you’ve had.
- I’m grateful for nature and its many wonders and beauties. I’m grateful for easily accessible parks, streams and other places that I can enjoy the magnificent wonders of nature.
Most of all, I’m grateful for others. I’m surrounded by people who genuinely care about little old me with no reward for themselves. They have found something inherently good about me and love me for it. They don’t have to, they choose to. And for that I will always be grateful. It’s the love for me that I see in their eyes that truly brightens my day and makes me feel important.
[jbox title="About the author:" border="5" radius="15"]
Aaron Anderson is a Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He also writes for several great relationship websites including the one you’re reading now, FamilyShare.com and the Huffingtonpost. He gives expert relationship information on his own blog RelationshipRx.net where you can get information for all your important relationship needs.
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