When I was beginning my ride through Colorado National Monument a couple of days ago, I burst into an uncontrollable laughter that took me by surprise. This had never happened to me before and I’m not exactly sure how to explain it. I’m not really someone who gets outwardly excited very often – but that’s not because I don’t get excited. I just tend to maintain my composure, to stay pretty even-keeled. You know how some people get super amped up and hoot and holler when they’re excited about something (Think: Price is Right audience)? That’s just not me. I couldn’t fake that if I wanted. My version of excitement is a gentle smile and a remark such as, “wow, that’s wonderful!”
I’ve been like this my whole life: Understated. Virgo. Once, a boyfriend surprised me with a nice trip and I smiled and said, “really? That’s so great, thank you!” and he was worried I wasn’t pleased with the destination. I was really excited, but I didn’t show it in the way he was accustomed to observing excitement. I’ve since learned to intentionally increase my outward reaction in times like that so there isn’t any miscommunication. I am excited! This is me being excited and happy!
At any rate, the laughter I experienced the other day was different. It didn’t even sound like me. It was this sound – a happy one – that sort of bubbled up from my soul. I was alone, riding down a quiet highway. It wasn’t really laughter, it was somehow different from laughter. I thought about it for a bit afterwards and think I figured out what it was: the embodiment of gratitude. If gratitude had a sound, that crazy, childlike laughter that came out of me in that moment would be it.
I was reading something the other day about the power of gratitude. Cliché, I know, like we haven’t all heard that a million times. Practice an attitude of gratitude, give thanks before we eat, be grateful for all we have, etc. But in the last year, I’ve found myself living in a state of gratitude. It began as a practice, and trust me when I say I had to really practice it. I was not someone who was naturally thankful, but rather a person who picked people and situations apart always searching for the ways things could go wrong. I was negative and anxious – definitely a worrier. And frankly, it sucked. Being a ball of anxiety all the time, looking for the bad in people, waiting for someone, or something, to screw me over. I think I began trying to practice gratitude around the time I rode the transam (I know I mention that a lot, but it was such a pivotal point in my life). I think it was around that time that I first became really cognizant of just how negative my natural state was. I began to work on practicing gratitude, finding things to be grateful for in my everyday life.
I’ll tell you, it was a real push at first. It seemed as if every time I found something to give thanks for, I would also find something to criticize. “I’m thankful I can fill my gas tank up” would become “yeah, but your car is getting old and the transmission is slipping, and it’s probably going to break down on you, and you don’t have the money to fix it when it does. What good is a tank of gas going to do for you then?”
The gratitude thing took work. I did meditations. I kept a journal. I would speak thanks aloud to myself. When I started falling away from this practice, I’d notice things in my life wouldn’t go as well. More shit would happen and my happiness would decrease. Gratitude, it seemed, was some sort of key to making my life better. So I kept with it.
For the most part, I now stay in a state of gratitude. I whisper thanks all the time – it is easy for me to find things to appreciate and be thankful for. This doesn’t mean there are no challenges in my life, but that I choose to find the good in things I used to throw my hands up in the air over. I’ve also found through this process that I have a really low tolerance for people who bitch and gripe – that low energy is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I want to feel good, I choose to feel good.
I was devastated when Chloe died – I mean, really devastated. It knocked the wind out of me. Watching her die, experiencing her leaving, was one of the hardest things I have experienced. I let myself feel the pain, I let it move through me instead of fighting it. And as I did that, I emerged thankful, rather than sad and heartbroken. She couldn’t live forever, and neither can I. I was thankful for the beautiful friendship I had with that dog and all the memories I have with her. I shed tears as I write this, but they aren’t sad tears – they are joyful ones. Thankful ones. And now, I’m thankful for Lola and all the memories I will make with her. My state of gratitude helped me cope with death in a powerfully positive way.
Yesterday as I rode through Arches National Park, I was full of gratitude. I mean, what have I done to deserve to experience all of this? I feel continuously humbled and grateful, in a state of awe. All around me, there is so much to be thankful for.