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I have to work at this (or, how a knife block purchase inspired a pity party)

Recently, one of my girls said something in passing about how being thankful and content comes naturally to me, and another of them said, “Nope, Mom has to work hard at this.”

I have obviously never been anyone other than myself, so I don’t know…maybe gratefulness comes easier to me than it does to other people, or maybe it doesn’t.

What I do know for sure is that I have to repeatedly, consistently work at being content and thankful. I’ve gotten better with practice, but even this many years into mindfully working on gratefulness, I still have to catch myself and reframe my thoughts.

I’ve written about this before (remember when I got seriously discontent after going kayaking??) but I had another situation that sent me into pity party mode this week.

And since blogging is at its best when it’s real and honest, I’ll tell you about it.

You know how I got the knife block from Facebook Marketplace this week? Well, that’s what started my pity party!

knife block.

I went to pick it up at a woman’s house, and when I pulled up, I saw that she lives in a beautiful waterfront downtown home, with historic charm.

There was a double-decker wrap-around porch, and when I walked into her house, I was greeted by a wide staircase, with a piano room to the right (housing a grand piano, naturally) and a beautiful dining room to the left.

I said, “Ohh, what a lovely house you have!”

And she said, “Thank you! My husband and I just downsized here, after raising our four kids.”

(Ahahahahaha. Imagine this being a downsize!)

I know this may seem dumb, but man, in that moment, my life seemed so depressing and pathetic by comparison.

four knife handles.

Here I was, buying a used knife block to hold the knives I rescued from the abandoned house. And I was bringing this home to my rented house, where I’m living after my family has fallen apart.

I know I don’t know this woman’s whole story, but from where I stood that day, her life seemed so very neat and tidy; like everything we imagine when we walk down the aisle.

She got married, she raised kids, and now she’s got a lovely place to spend her empty-nest years with her husband.

My life’s not going to be like that. My life isn’t like that.

My right-now is not what I imagined. My future is not going to be what I imagined.

And on the drive home, I really was having a pity party.

Sometimes, I feel angry about my situation, and that actually is easier. The times when there is this crushing grief…those times are the most painful.

I know that I have legitimate reasons to be sad and to grieve, and believe me, I do let myself feel those feelings. I have cried gallons worth of tears this year.

But as my therapist says, that’s all good as long as I don’t get stuck. Waves of anger and grief can be healing, but it’s more concerning to be stuck in anger or grief constantly.

Thankfully, I have lots of tools in my bag to help me get unstuck, so after I sat in my sadness for a bit, I reminded myself that I am almost always more miserable when I focus on what others have rather than focusing on what I have.

View of Kristen's living room.

That seems to be a lesson I have to learn again and again: focusing my eyes on the good in my own life is what keeps me content and grateful. I need to keep my eyes on my lane.

For instance:

  • I really do love my little rental house.
  • I really do love the satisfaction of how I’ve creatively cobbled together a cozy home on a budget.
  • It’s not pathetic that my home is furnished with things from the abandoned house; the contents of that house have been such a blessing for me.
  • I have everything I need here; shelter, heat, air-conditioning, space to live and work and eat and have people over.
  • I feel an immense sense of freedom here.
  • Lisey and Zoe and I have such fun times with each other here.
  • There are a lot of reasons for me to be hopeful about what my future holds
  • This year has been hard, but even the hardest days have not been as hard as what I endured before I left my marriage.

In sum, there is a lot of good here and I can see it when I turn my eyes to my own life and away from someone else’s life.

living room rental.

As I washed my dishes that night, I put in my earbuds and listened to Taylor Leonhardt’s Happy or Whatever song on repeat because I knew the lyrics were so appropriate to what I was feeling.

Last night I bought a lieI saw an ad onlineAll these smiling people had it figured outIf I could be someone elseSomeone beside myselfI might have a little less to cry about

I’m on the other side of the glassLooking at the life they haveAin’t it so much betterIt’s always easier to believeIt’s easy for them to beHappy or whatever

Pining after the knife block lady’s life could be pining over something that is not nearly as perfect as I imagine. And that’s because perfect does not exist on this planet.
I reminded myself (again!) that no one’s life is free of troubles. Every person has challenges and pain and losses; everyone has had hopes and dreams crushed in one way or another.
So. I rode the wave of sadness, then I told myself true things, and I really did feel better after that.
oiled knife handles.
Maybe this is an odd thing to write about the day before Thanksgiving. Or maybe it’s not; at church on Sunday, the pastor was talking about how Thanksgiving became an official holiday during the Civil War, which was undoubtedly a time when it was hard to be thankful!
When things are hard, though, that’s exactly when thankfulness is so useful and important. Thankfulness does not fix the hard, but it does give me a better attitude and a fresh perspective.
And that’s why I keep working at it.

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Tuesday 6th of February 2024

I know several people whose lives and homes look so perfect and I know they have children with severe problems; mental health, addiction, homelessness and they can't fix it. So your wealth is your lovely girls, your amazing imdustriuosness, and your faith.


Tuesday 29th of November 2022

You have such a gift for sharing! As I read your words today, I remembered more than one time when I was envious of someone (which is rare for me, but it happens) and much later I learned that what I saw and knew at that time was not the reality of that person's life. So, echoing your words - we can never really know. My Aunt Mary, who lost all of her children, told me that she reminds herself to focus on what she has and not on what she lost. Thank you for sharing you life and your wisdom.

Sarah Kay

Monday 28th of November 2022

Thank you for this beautiful, true, and real meditation on contentment. This concept is really hitting home for me lately. I always come away from reading your posts feeling like someone has put my own feelings into words much better than I can at the moment.


Monday 28th of November 2022

This is so beautifully put. I'm so sorry for all you're going through. Thank you for being willing to share your struggles--you help me remember to be grateful as well.


Monday 28th of November 2022

I'm late to this conversation but this episode has stuck with me. Some years back I was riding up the elevator with two ladies at work. It was winter and I had my frumpy winter coat on. There was lady on the elevator who looked like a model, smartly dressed, very thin, everything I was not! She got off on a floor. When she exited the other lady said to me, that poor lady, she's had a terrible time. She lost her young son to cancer recently and she has lost so much weight. Well, did I feel foolish then. None of us knows what others are trying to get through and it's not worth spending time being envious.

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