I know I learned a hell of a lot more than only five things, but when I compiled a list, the themes were overlapping so I started to get redundant. Without even realizing it, the past year has surprised me with heartbreak, accomplishment, anxiety, near-death experiences, and hey, I even found out I was allergic to dust! Anyway, what I’m getting at is it’s been one crazy cliché rollercoaster ride but I have begun to reflect and reminisce on all the growth I’ve made, and I am so thankful. I have learned to appreciate the little moments and minute decisions in life that have continuously guided me on the path I am today.
Here’s my list of the five biggest realizations I’ve accepted that have helped to shape me into a much happier and healthier Madeleine.
- Be grateful for every moment and every thing.
There is never a reason you shouldn’t take the time to pause and reflect on how “blessed” you are. Not even speaking religiously, but there are so many other things that could be worse! You have a house, you have internet to read my blog, you have food (I’m assuming), you have life in your body and decent working organ systems!!! Be thankful! When I am feeling grateful, I know I feel lighter and happier. Saying thank you encourages me to smile which makes me feel even happier. There’s science behind it if you feel like researching it, too — basically it makes a positive feedback loop in the reward center of your brain so you can’t help but feel wonderful.
It’s not always easy to practice gratitude, though, especially when it seems like nothing is going right. You had a bad table at work, your tire went flat, you failed a test. If you turn your situation around and make it positive, you can learn from your experiences. My customers may have been rude, but I learned to exercise a whole new level of patience! So a flat tire may be out of your control, but maybe next time, you learn to drive a little bit more cautiously. And a failed test, well, we all know we usually earn the grade we receive (within reason), so it’s an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and study harder to perform better! It may seem silly to be thankful for not-so-great things, but it gets so much easier the more you do it!
- Make meaning out of life experiences, good and bad.
I am a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason.” Okay, you can tell me how stupid I am, how it’s all hippie BS, whatever. I’m not concerned, though, because it’s my philosophy and it keeps my sanity!! The way I use this phrase to my benefit is to keep in mind that every obstacle in my life is there to help me grow. I can choose not to grow, however, and instead dwell in the sadness of how much of a failure I am. But let’s think about how fun that actually is. (it’s not) It’s so much more fun to grow and become a better person! Be above it! I know this isn’t always the easiest advice, especially having been clinically depressed before, trust me, I understand completely. Some days it’s not enough to even get out of bed, much less open your eyes. But wait! This depression may be here to show me something’s not right, something needs to be changed. I can use this imbalance to my advantage! Eh? Still not working? Maybe I’ll need to get specific.
So, over the last six months, I was in a car accident. Completely my fault. Completely irresponsible. I could barely even face myself some days in the aftermath. I had so much entitlement built up about drunk drivers getting killed or getting in accidents and couldn’t even fathom that I would one day be one of them. I thought I was better than that. Smarter than that. I got kicked right off my high horse that night. Thankfully, I didn’t injure or hit anyone else, but I did seriously damage my vehicle. Paychecks and paychecks later, I got everything back to normal, but there was something going on in my mind that I could not wrap my brain around. Why did I get myself into this mess? Why was I so upset with myself? What is all this guilt, regret, and shame going to do for me? So I decided it was going to make me a better person. A very very expensive life lesson, you could call it. I learned to eventually forgive myself, remembering that I was only human and susceptible to mistakes just like anyone else. But without this experience, I would still be a hot-headed, know-it-all judging the hell out of everyone around me. It taught me to put myself in check. It was almost as if the universe was sending me this traumatic experience so that I could learn more about myself and the way I think. I learned to be thankful for this life-changing experience, one that will forever aid me in my journey forward into grown-upland. Yes, it sucked that I had to endure such a not-cool experience, but I still choose to be grateful!
- Be true to yourself in all aspects of life.
Another huge lesson I’ve learned is to stop doing things for other people!!!!!! I’m not talking about holding doors or helping carry groceries. I’m talking about compromising your own happiness and wholeness in order to satisfy the ever changing needs and wants of other people who have no interest in your well-being or future. Let it soak in. It may take a minute, but it is more than necessary to hear. We do too much as human beings to be validated or approved that isn’t consistent with what we really want as individuals. I have lived my whole life trying to be this image of what everyone thinks I am, who everyone wants me to be, and I’ve had it! It’s not cool anymore. It’s driven me crazy! I’ve learned it doesn’t even matter if you think I’m rude or mean or whatever you may believe just because I didn’t apologize or because I did something to make me happy that wasn’t necessarily in line with how you perceive the world. Sorry about it. Actually, #sorrynotsorry. It doesn’t matter anymore! This is my life, I’m in control, and I have the ability to make my own decisions according to how I want to live. It may not align with what you think, but you don’t determine my happiness, only me.
It’s not even about being subordinate or immature about it. It’s discovering the self-respect that you have always deserved and having the ability to appreciate your own self-worth in the process! You are so beautiful and worthy of all the love in the world, and it’s stupid to let someone else’s validation control your emotions and opinions of yourself! We are talking about your life here! You only have one, so why not live it as awesomely as you possibly could?! Go chase that dream you’ve always had, interview for the job of your dreams, buy that plane ticket you’ve been indecisive about. Do what you love, it’s the only way to find your personal happiness.
4. Things in life are done in fear and in love: choose your side of the spectrum.
I don’t mean to go all Donnie Darko on everyone, but if you think about it, it’s true. Even our biological nature agrees! We have a sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and a parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Each system has its own characteristics based on its activation; for example, sympathetic engages release of chemicals like epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol (stress). In normal everyday language, it’s the system that gets our heart racing and body ready to kick some ass or run the hell away from whatever is troubling us. Whenever this system is activated, the parasympathetic system is put on hold. This becomes a problem, however, when we are always engaged in fear-like tactics in order to face the trivial aspects of reality. Do more to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, so that your heart rate slows, your body can perform its normal functions, and you can live happy and healthy!! Deep breathing and mindful awareness can help to cultivate feelings of love and security in an otherwise stressful and negative world!
Maybe the science was a little confusing, but the evidence is there! When you choose fear over love, you are choosing to send your body into psycholand!!! Emotions like anxiety, hatred, and just plain evil prepare your body to toughen up, constricting nearly every vessel of your body! Your heart becomes overworked due to the endless supply of negative energy feeding the troubles of your day. Having an overworked heart can lead to cardiovascular problems, which can trickle off into other important organ systems. We become stressed out, we age prematurely, so many things we don’t want to happen we actually manifest ourselves!! What can we do to change this? Meditate or focus on your breathing. Do things out of love for yourself and others. Stay mindful of the emotions that overcome you, but do not feed into them. Don’t have fear for what is yet to come, but instead, learn to love and embrace the process and accept that whatever will be, will be. With new habits of gratitude, happiness, and love, you are well on your way to strengthening your immune system and living the vibrant life you’ve always dreamed of!
5. Love yourself, love yourself, love yourself, even when you don’t think you deserve it.
Oh, wow. This was a huge lesson for me this year. After a series of events, I began to realize I was out on a search for love looking in all the wrong places. I could never find it in boys nor could I find it in new clothes or expensive things. When you go looking for love in these awful places, you only find temporary relief; there will always be more boys to talk to (thus, become a victim to heartbreak), more clothes to buy, etc. Instead of searching on the outside, I made the decision to look inside. I discovered I had all the love I had ever wanted right inside my beautiful body and soul. I have always been a thoughtful and generous person, fully aware of all the love I have to give to others, but it had never occurred to me that I WAS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE THAT NEEDED TO RECEIVE THIS LOVE. I had lived my life putting myself on the back burner when I should have been first in line.
I do also realize that loving yourself in today’s society is hard. I am not admitting any easy way out. Especially living in one that is invested in isolation, conformity, and everything in between that keeps us from truly accepting the love we have to offer. Our country feeds off our insecurities in order to perpetuate our self-doubt and fear we have about approval or fitting in. IT IS SO STUPID!!!!!!!! Why should I have to compromise myself and my happiness because society tells me so? We have all the tools in our body to make our dreams a reality, and with blinders on, we can never find our true focus! So, start loving yourself, today. Stop hanging out with people who don’t mirror your true self-worth, don’t feed into negative pressures from the world, don’t seek external validation, but instead, learn to befriend yourself so that you can give your compassion and positive life energy to a soul so beautiful that the world can’t say no! All of this may sound silly, but that’s because we’ve been built up to believe that we are dependent and needy and insecure. FIGHT THE BS! Don’t conform to what the world wants you to be. Do what you love and everything else will fall into place. Love yourself, love yourself, love yourself.
In retrospect, 2015 was one of the best years of my life. Keep in mind, so many things did not go according to plan. In fact, almost none of them. But that’s what I’m learning that the beauty of life is all about. Life is chaotic, yet so rewarding. Our experiences mold and shape us into the awesome people we already are, and once we realize this, we have won. Things are going to happen that we do not agree with or may not even be mentally prepared for. But take my advice and remember to do things out of love, maintain your composure, practice gratitude, and learn to love and respect yourself, so that you will soon find your inner-peace and happiness along with me! ❤