Being Grateful for the Ordinary: The Life We Have Is Enough

Woman with Hands Raised

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” ~Unknown

From time to time during my schooling years I’d be asked to identify my role models. I always chose someone who’d changed the world in a big way—Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi.

I never looked within my own life for role models. I had lovely parents and great teachers, and still, I was always looking well beyond what was right in front of me. I was always striving for something more, out there, beyond my own life.

As I reflect back, I see the dissatisfaction that this bred. I see how little I valued myself and by extension, my immediate surroundings. Somehow it all seemed… not good enough.

People and experiences that were far away from my hometown seemed so much more important and exciting.

It wasn’t until I started keeping a gratitude journal that this really began to change. I started the journal because I was depressed. Not sad—can’t-get-out-of-bed-or-even-talk-to-anyone depressed.

It would hit me on and off over the years, and the only coping mechanism I had at the time was to hide in my bedroom and breathe through the long and agonizing hours, waiting for it to pass.

A gratitude journal was the first tool I had to help me shift the fog. I would start very simply with the breath. I’d express gratitude that there was breath in my body (although at times I wasn’t even grateful for that).

Then I’d be grateful that I had a home and a bed to rest in while I recovered. I would then build from there in an attempt to find at least five things I was grateful for that day.

I wrote in that gratitude journal for a good couple of years before I started to see significant shifts in my perception of life. It was a slow and gradual process, but with each list I subtly turned my focus away from the world outside and toward my own life. Eventually, I turned my focus within.

As I began to value myself and my life more deeply, I also valued those around me more. I stopped judging them or dismissing them as unimportant.

I stopped thinking that there might be better people to be spending my time with or emulating, and I started appreciating the people who were right in front of me.

Eventually, that brought me to appreciate my favorite role models of all time; a small handful of yoga students that I used to teach in an outdoor space by the ocean each Friday morning.

The students were all women and they were all over the age of fifty.

Although I’m sure they had very full lives and many reasons not to get out of their comfortable beds each Friday morning to do yoga, they would show up week after week, no matter the weather.

Some had injuries, some were recovering from illness and some were simply not as strong as they once were. It was this fact that most impressed me. 

When you’re young and ably bodied, it’s not overly challenging to do something like yoga. Your body is reasonably supple and your muscle tone hasn’t atrophied with the passing of time. As you age, it’s easier to find excuses—arthritis or a bad hip, the onset of an illness, or injuries in your back or knees.

There’s a saying in yoga that the most difficult part of the practice is doing the practice. I’ve often found this to be true in my own life. It’s even more challenging when it’s dark outside and rainy and cold, and the alternative of staying in bed is right there in front of you.

But here were these women—perfectly ordinary, everyday women—making choices that made them extraordinary.

Every week they were the embodiment of the wisdom I’d learned through my gratitude journal; that with persistence and in small gentle steps, lives are transformed.

Those beautiful students came every week on faith and on trust. They worked hard to build upper body strength and flexibility.

I saw each of them giving it their all, and although I didn’t know them outside of the classroom, I knew that they understood the value of commitment, the value of continuing even when things are tough, and most of all, I knew that they were brave.

After class I would watch them swim in the ocean (no matter the season).  They would swim and then they’d have breakfast together. Over breakfast they’d share stories about their lives.

Watching them, I realized something else about these women. They were women who knew how to build community around them. They weren’t isolated and lonely; they were a part of something. 

They’d found a place to come together, to connect with themselves, to connect with nature, and to connect with each other.

In witnessing the simplicity and authenticity of this weekly ritual, I felt a deep gratitude that I’d been privileged enough to be both participant and witness.

I realized too that my gratitude journaling days had come full circle. That gratitude was no longer something I needed to draw from the depths of my being as a means of abating depression, but was instead a living, breathing everyday experience.

And in that moment there stopped being somewhere to go and someone to admire who was better, more accomplished, more intelligent, or more influential than me. There was, quite simply, the world and every living being within it.

All teaching through their actions and all learning through their interactions. All role models to one another and for one another. In that moment there was no separation and no isolation. There was only oneness, and it was all home.

Taking steps toward change can be so much simpler than we realize. We can start by noticing what’s around us and finding something to be grateful for in that.

We can stop looking far away for role models in the recognition that we’re surrounded by teachers everyday, and they’re showing up as our friends, family members, colleagues, and neighbours.

We can stop trying to force change to occur immediately and relax into the realization that change occurs through repetition and commitment—by continuing a practice (such as a gratitude journal) even when we’re not sure if it’s making a difference.

And we can remind ourselves that we always have a choice. We can choose to be a victim of our life circumstances or we can choose to build on what we have right in front of us.

My students could easily have stayed home, focusing on what their bodies could no longer do and what they felt they’d lost.

Instead, they chose what they could do. They could show up. They could build community. And in so doing they declared in actions rather than words, “We are enough. This life is enough and we are grateful.”

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate prayer to guide us each and every day.

Woman with open arms image via Shutterstock

About Samantha Nolan-Smith

Samantha Nolan-Smith is a business alignment coach supporting women to find freedom, abundance and purpose through soul-centred entrepreneurship. She’s the founder of The Freedom Collective, an online community of entrepreneurs and creatives building their businesses from the inside out using her signature ‘Business by the Chakras’ approach.

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  • Hi Samantha
    This post was really beautifully written, and the quote you used in the beginning speaks a very important truth that dissatisfaction now is a strong indicator the feeling would continue even if we got all the things we think we are lacking now. There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting the most out of life we can get, and tapping into our innate desire to create.

    But, we have to start feeling gratitude and appreciation for what is currently in our life–it often requires a deliberate shift of focus at first, but then becomes more natural over time. The best part is, this sincere gratitude and appreciation creates an energy that lets more into our lives for which to feel these sentiments.

  • elizabetht

    This post was beautiful! Thank you for sharing such a lovely story…it will stay with me. This is also a lesson I need to allow into my heart, that there is, indeed, beauty and grace in the simple and everyday 🙂

  • DB Hoster

    I really felt this post! Very beautifully expressed message, thanks for sharing it.

  • AMS

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart <3

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    You’re so welcome!

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    My pleasure DB!

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    Absolutely. It can all be so simple when we allow it to be Elizabeth 🙂

  • John

    Hi I loved your post Thankyou
    My reaction was profound
    What I got from it was unexpected It was not about happiness and role models it was this
    Looking at my relationship and realising what I have is enough To stop looking
    Outside of it for happiness I had considered making major changes and am now more clear about staying
    Thankyou thankyou thankyou

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    Yes it’s one of the biggest stories we tell ourselves – that we’ll be happy when… When there’s more, when our circumstances change, when, when, when.
    In truth, the only happiness to be found is right now, exactly as things are right now.

  • I agree deeply with the core message of this post. The Buddha taught that desire is suffering. And desire is simply sacrificing our inherent state of happiness for the promise (illusion) that we need something else to be happy.

  • Really beautiful message, and something we need to be reminded of sometimes when our perspective gets distorted.

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    Ah! So beautiful John! I’m thrilled to read this.

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    Which happens so easily doesn’t it Michelle?!

  • Natalie

    I needed to read this, thank you for reminding me not to wallow in negativity and appreciate the wonderfulness (not a word, I know) around me. Natalie.

  • Hi Suzanne Thanks for such a great post. We can choose to be victims of our circumstances or we can choose to build on what we have in front of us resonate with me. I too for a long time looked far away for my heroes when they were all right in front of me.
    I was never appreciative for my life because I was born in a poor family, poor country and hated all those tings that made me who I was. I have learnt as an adult that the person I am today is as a result of all the things I hated most.
    I now have learned to appreciate the heroes and people that are closest to me because they are the ones who have or will have a lasting impact.
    Thanks for the post.

  • June Morrow

    Beautiful post. I love that there are lessons and role models all around us. Sometimes we focus so much on where we are going we fail to see all the amazing people where we are. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    My pleasure June 🙂

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    It’s so lovely to hear your journey Rose. When we come to accept and even appreciate where we’re from and who has been on the journey with us, then we can finally come to know true peace.

  • Wonderful post Samantha!
    “We’re surrounded by teachers everyday, and they’re showing up as our friends, family members, colleagues, and neighbours.” – how true!
    Each interaction with someone, whether positive or negative has the potential to become a learning experience, if we allow it to be. I have believed in this for a while, but I am recently getting the opportunity to experience this in a really meaningful way everyday, like never before.

  • Shannon

    Samantha, you are so right! So often we overlook what is right in front of us – to find gratitude, hope, and people to admire. Certainly we tend to make life (and happiness) far more complicated than it need be. I enjoyed your writing!

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    Oh how lovely for you Peter! I’m so happy to hear that.

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    My pleasure Natalie (personally I think wonderfulness is a fabulous word!).

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    Thanks for letting me know Shannon and I couldn’t agree more – when we allow life to be simple, so much more joy and happiness becomes available to us.

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Wow..this was BEAUTIFUL; thank you for sharing this story! Reading this def has made me be a little more grateful about my life…:). GRATITUDE JOURNAL is something that people have recommended me over the years as well; for whatever reason..I just never felt comfortable writing things down & found it silly (Though I know hearing/reading about so many people’s stories; it has come to help them tremendously over the years!).

  • Samantha Nolan Smith

    It’s definitely a funny thing having a gratitude journal. It seems so innocuous and unlikely to make a difference and yet has the capacity to have such a profound effect. So glad you enjoyed it Jeevan.

  • Samantha, thanks for sharing this. A gratitude journal is amazing! It suddenly makes me realize that I have absolutely everything I need… and then some. It’s also a great way to get out of the “poor me” mindset because we can see how much abundance we have all around us. Thank you!

  • HI Samantha. I came to know about your post through popular post section. I must say it deserves a place over there. I am complete beginner in this zone but I completely agree with you because we are lucky to have so many things in our life. Instead of cursing others, we should devote our energies on positive things in life. Rather than focusing on size, we must direct our senses on the content part.
    Thanks Samantha for lovely words….

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Everyday is a choice, and that’s why it’s important to be thankful for everything that you do have. Life’s too short to live unhappily.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Samantha.

  • Liz

    It’s easy for the majority to find what they want but when you’re in the middle of a crowded city and no room for peace and quiet no matter where you are or turn, it’s not like that. Moving away is not an option at the moment. So unbelievable how humans (or breeders) can be selfish and greedy and breed non-stop.