A New Year's Resolution worth keeping

The end of one year and the beginning of another.  For many people, it's a sigh of relief.  2017 can be gone--bring on the new (and hopefully better!) year.  For others, it was a great year, filled with happiness, dreams come true, and much love.  For almost all, it's a time to make some resolutions and get better and/or more disciplined in some area of their lives.  I have a habit of being over zealous with my resolutions, and I almost always end up failing. 

But, there is ONE resolution I am pretty certain I can keep, and one that I want to encourage you all to consider as well.  I believe if we all try and do this one resolution, our world will be a much better place.  You ready for it?  Here it is: 

BE.GRATEFUL. 

 Bihar, India--where I was taught what gratitude really is

Bihar, India--where I was taught what gratitude really is

That's it!  One simple thing that can have such a profound impact on your entire life.  I don't know the story of your life or what sort of tragedy, sadness, or trouble has struck you in recent times.  I am not telling you "to get over it." Instead, I am asking you to intentionally and purposefully find appreciation and thanks for the many positive and wonderful things in your life. 

Let me share a personal story that will hopefully inspire you, as it has me, on your own gratitude journey and choosing joy.  A story that made me realize that gratitude is much more than just a feeling or attitude... that it's a way of life. 

 the people of a small community awaiting our arrival--with all sorts of flowers and gifts as tokens of their gratitude

the people of a small community awaiting our arrival--with all sorts of flowers and gifts as tokens of their gratitude

I went on a trip to Bihar, India (a very remote and poor area in NE India) and also Nepal with Heifer International, and our goal was to provide encouragement for the families (mainly women) who were involved in the Heifer program.  What I found astounded me.  The caste system is still alive and well, unfortunately.  Women are mostly objectified.  And the literacy rate among females in certain parts of northeast India is only about 18%, with being literate means being able to write your name, that’s it. In this area, it was very obvious that women were not as valued as their male counterparts.  Perhaps the most disheartening was that some of the women didn’t even know what to say when we asked them what they wanted for their future. They truly did not even have hope or even dreams….

 a picture with a local village child--the pink on my forehead was put there by the women of the community when we arrived

a picture with a local village child--the pink on my forehead was put there by the women of the community when we arrived

 Gathering together to hear about the impact of Heifer International on these women, their families, and their community

Gathering together to hear about the impact of Heifer International on these women, their families, and their community

Many of these women only thought about the immediate future and providing food and shelter for their children and animals.  Most had husbands who left them to go find work in the city, never to return.  Their big worries were not how many "likes" they had on Instagram (I am certain that none of them even know what that is), but rather if they would get raped in the dark when they went to use the bathroom in a nearby field.  They couldn't tell you who the Prime Minister of India is, much less where America is located.  Many had never ridden in cars, much less an airplane. 

IMG_2199.JPG
IMG_2234.JPG
 dung patties used for fuel to cook, among many other things

dung patties used for fuel to cook, among many other things

But....this is not to say their life was wrong or that they were unhappy.  No, they embraced all they had around them, and were grateful for their children and the gifts they had received through the Heifer program.  In fact, I don't think I had ever seen so many happy people with so "little" (in materialistic terms).  They kept very clean houses--even with walls of cow dung!  They cooked amazing meals.  And they sang, danced, and laughed like you wouldn't see walking down the streets of NYC.  They waited for us foreigners from some far distant land for probably 2 hours in nearly 100% humidity and 100 degree heat, wearing their best clothing and holding beautiful handpicked bouquets.  I saw their smiles, and I heard their singing. I watched them dance around in sheer delight with clapping hands and laughter, because they were so happy to have us visit and to show us their one room mud hut and the goats they got from Heifer International that they are so proud of.  They truly embraced a life of thankfulness and gratitude and didn't focus on what they didn't have or what they wanted. 

 a goat from Heifer

a goat from Heifer

 running water is not a luxury in homes here, so this mother brought her children to the local well to get a drink

running water is not a luxury in homes here, so this mother brought her children to the local well to get a drink

I feel that we all know that we should be thankful for what we have (or don’t have in some cases), but do we really embrace a life of thankfulness? Do we really notice all the little, subtle things that make life so beautiful and wonderful and happy? I know that I sure didn’t. Before this trip, I often found myself getting crabby at the slow check-out line, or checking on Facebook and feeling twangs of jealousy at the things others were doing or things that they had. I found myself upset that my steak came out too done, or that the wind was blowing yet again in balmy western Oklahoma. 

 can you spot the baby under the sari??

can you spot the baby under the sari??

IMG_2309.JPG

It was in those moments that I learned what gratitude is. Being in India made me so grateful for simple things that I have in my everyday life back in the States, like clean water and toilets! But it also made me even more grateful for my rights as a woman here in the United States. It made me thankful that I can choose my spouse, and that I can walk around without fear of rape. It made me grateful that I have dreams. That I have hope. That I am not born into a caste and have to stay in that caste forever, just because that’s the way it is. It made me so appreciative for college, and my career, and my ability to experience life in every facet that I want to experience it in. 

 happiness, gratitude, and love in the simple and purest forms

happiness, gratitude, and love in the simple and purest forms

Like those women, I can choose to be happy and have joy.  As Ann Voskamp says, "Joy is a function of gratitude, and gratitude is a function of perspective.  You only began to change your life when you begin to change the way you see it."  Choose to be happy.  Choose to have a smile on your face even when it feels like nothing is going right and your world is crumbling.  I promise you, there is something to smile for.  Don't let your circumstances define your attitude or your level of happiness.  Choose joy. 

 When looking for joy, you will find it hiding in your gratitude.  

When looking for joy, you will find it hiding in your gratitude.