Gratitude Adjustment

When our family returned to the United States after almost a year and a half of nomadic travel, I picked up an unusual habit the moment I set foot back on American soil. It’s something I don’t have a lot of control over. It comes up unexpectedly, sometimes at inopportune moments, and to be honest, it can get a little embarrassing. I try to hide it as much as possible for fear people will think I’m crazy, but at times there’s simply nothing I can do to stop it. I’m powerless to it.

I call it a “joyful meltdown”, and it goes something like this.

I’ll be in the middle of rather mundane task, perhaps waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store or driving home from one of the kids’ schools or maybe just standing at the sink washing dishes. Then out of nowhere, something moves me and a wave of gratitude comes crashing into me with a physical force. My skin tingles, a strange numbness passes through me and a warmth spreads through my chest. The sensation brings tears to my eyes, puts a catch in my throat and usually sends me into a bizarre combination of tears and laughter. I’ll be laughing hysterically through bawling, heaving sobs, looking and feeling a bit maniacal. This is a joyful meltdown, my friends, and trust me when I tell you, it is beyond weird.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, a woman standing next to you, say, in the cereal aisle of the grocery store (I use this example because it just happened yesterday). Suddenly you hear her take in a sharp breath, almost a gasp. Instinctively, you glance over at her and notice her eyes are welling up with tears and she’s doing this odd, awkward thing with her mouth that looks like she’s trying to stifle a laugh. As she turns away from you dabbing at her eyes, you hear a chuckle escape from her. She quickly grabs a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and pushes her cart down the aisle.

What do you think of this woman? Do you think she’s maybe just a little bit crazy? Yeah, you do. Because I’d think she was crazy, too. But that’s me, folks. The inexplicably crying, laughing lady in the cereal aisle. I’m not crazy, I promise. It’s just joy!

These joyful meltdowns are short-lived, but in certain situations they can definitely be embarrassing. The other day I was sitting at a stoplight taking in the view of the mountains surrounding my town, and within seconds, there I was with my hands on the wheel bawling and laughing hysterically to myself. Why? Because it’s all just so damn beautiful, people! Not just the scenery, but the ingenuity of it all. We humans have created a world where people can live comfortably in these harsh, yet beautiful places, with our heating systems and high-efficiency insulation. I’m sitting on a paved road in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and in minutes I’ll have traveled a distance which would have once taken someone days, if they were able to make the journey at all. After I get out of this miraculous machine, I’m going to walk into a store where everything I could ever want to eat is just sitting there waiting for me on shelves and in bins. It’s all just so incredible and amazing, isn’t it?! It’s definitely worthy of a few joyful tears! And then, of course, I look over and see the guy in the next lane staring at me with a look on his face that clearly says: “Lady, what in the hell is wrong with you?”

Dude, I don’t really know what’s “wrong” with me, but I seriously hope it doesn’t get cured any time soon. As the months pass by and our family gets further away from our global journey, I don’t want to lose these moments of awestruck appreciation for the seemingly ordinary. Because while they might be fleeting (and sometimes a little embarrassing), they’ve shifted my attitude toward everything and everyone. I spend more time being thankful for everything in my life and less time stressing out about things out of my control. I recognize the small stuff for what it is, and I don’t take any of it personally. It’s a much easier, more enjoyable existence these days, and I don’t want to lose it as our trip becomes part of our distant past.

However, I really don’t think I’ll lose it, because this is not just about the trip. Our journey might have been the impetus for this attitude adjustment in me, but it’s not a requirement. A person doesn’t have to be circumnavigating the globe to experience this change in perspective. The way we view our world is a choice. The late Wayne Dyer told his readers to “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.” I’ve come to wholeheartedly believe this. Whether we realize it or not, we decide each and every day how we interpret and react to our lives. Do you want to be pissed off at that long stoplight, or can you take time to look around you, find something interesting in your world and stop to appreciate it. Is that grouchy cashier really out to ruin your day, or can you give her a smile and a kind word to help ease whatever issues she might be dealing with in her life?

Jane Goodall said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” This dedicated activist wasn’t just talking about saving gorillas or other major philanthropic endeavors. She was also talking about our individual perspectives. How we interact with the world and the people around us. How we choose to view the things happening in our lives. Are we making a positive impact by reacting with patience, by sharing kind words, by leaving each person we encounter a bit happier than they were before we came along? Or are we putting an annoyed, frustrated and judgmental mark on the world around us? Admittedly, I’ve approached life both ways, and I can vouch that the former outlook is actually the selfish choice – I’m so much happier when I take the patient, kind and caring approach.

A few years ago we were at a party and someone pulled up the viral YouTube video of Double Rainbow Guy. Remember him? People around the world were amused by his weeping, emotional reaction as he recorded the vision in his viewfinder. “Double rainbow? What does it all mean?” he cried through tears. As I giggled with the rest of our friends, I also thought to myself, “Man, I hope someday something in my life hits me with that kind of sheer joy.” Well, I guess I got my wish. Except instead of double rainbows, for me it’s stoplights and cereal aisles. Go figure.

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About the Author

Tracey Carisch

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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1 Comment

  1. I love this post, and completely relate to it! I first felt like this when I was working at one of the refugee camps in Calais, when I was just over-run by a feeling of happiness and gratitude to these people, who, despite living in a rat-infested, crowded camp without their families or worldly possession, would do everything they could to help us, even if that’s just inviting us back to their place for a cup of sweet tea. It’s happened since, and to a certain extent, I hope it never goes away!

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