Guest post by Dragongal from dragonsonfire.com
On life and expectations
I used to whine and complain a lot. As an elementary school teacher, I was always overwhelmed with the demands placed on me by the students, parents, and administrators. My frustrations often got the best of me, and I would vent to my friends, co-workers, and my husband. Intellectually, I knew I was fortunate. My husband and I both had full-time jobs. We had a nice home and enjoyed traveling the world. But still, I complained. I believe this was due to unrealistic expectations. I expected a lot out of myself and the world around me.
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My big moment of realization
Then, everything changed in April 2011. My husband Dragon Guy was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia at age 34. I was thrown in the unfamiliar world of cancer. Fear, anger, sadness, and exhaustion took over my life.
Belatedly, I realized I should have been more grateful of my life before my husband’s diagnosis–that my life before was really a carefree and lovely life, but instead I chose to dwell on the parts of my life that weren’t going right.
I wish I could say that Dragon Guy’s diagnosis scared me straight and that I just focused on how grateful I was that he was alive and that his cancer is very treatable through pills. Instead, I focused on how angry I was that my former life was taken away from me, that our marriage had changed, and how I was scared all the time. All these negative emotions resulted in my own health crisis—years of dealing with hives and a rash.
Eventually, things calmed down, and I learned to make peace with my new life as a caregiver. We started attending cancer support groups. Listening to other people’s stories—how they had to go through chemo, radiation, surgery, and how they dealt with horrible side effects, made me grateful that Dragon Guy’s treatment was so easy. But I was only grateful in comparison to others, which I believe is a somewhat lesser form of gratitude.
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In the summer of 2017, I quit my job at the age of 40. I started my new life as an early retiree, and I started going to a meditation class. These classes included a 30-minute meditation with one hour lecture on Buddhist philosophy. Something about these classes really helped me connect with my gratitude. This class showed me the importance of slowing down and becoming truly aware of my reality.
And what I saw was my beautiful life for the first time, in full color.
I was alone often during the beginning of my early retirement, as I was starting to find new activities to join. But I was hardly ever sad because I was connected to my gratitude every day. I was so incredibly grateful that Dragon Guy supported my quitting. I was grateful for the little things in my life: the orchids blooming, the time to read a good book, the birds chirping. Through gratitude, I found so much joy and peace.
But the daily practice of being grateful is hard. I find myself falling into the habit of complaining even now, after everything I’ve learned through gratitude.
I haven’t established a routine for gratitude, and perhaps this is something I should do. At the beginning of my early retirement, I used to wake up every day and say, “I face this day with gratitude,” and that would set my intention for the day. Then I was journaling daily about gratitude, which was also a wonderful way to reflect on the beauty of my life. Unfortunately, I have fallen out of these routines.
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But what I have learned is that the inspiration for gratitude can come at any time, and the important thing is to recognize it. The opportunity to guest post for Melody and Andrea’s Thankfulness Series has been a gift for me. It’s made me realize that I’ve gotten away from gratitude and that it’s time to reconnect. And for that, I am grateful.
Dragongirl enjoys writing about early retirement, saving, and living with her husband. Her website www.dragonsonfire.com provides others with resources, support, and lifestyle recommendations to live a simple life full of gratitude.