In November, my boyfriend and I had corresponding downtime from work and traveled to Maui and Sydney.
We spent our time in Maui low key and local; we rented a place through AirBnB rather than a hotel, took one massive grocery trip and cooked our meals ourselves, and spent our mornings drinking Kona coffee on the porch, enjoying the sound of waves, the warmth of the sun, and the sight of bright tiny lizards who shared our deck.
One morning, we hiked an 11,000 ft. high volcano, but the rest of the days, we simply relaxed. We walked to nearby beaches and made friends with local surfers and their coconut-fetching dogs. We picked up some young hippie hitchhikers on a ride to town (don't worry, apparently hitchhiking is quite safe in Maui), who in exchange gave us a “healthy” weed cookie -- made mostly from chia seeds and dark chocolate and a nugget of the most calming marijuana I've ever smoked.
Despite my incredibly blessed life, I've struggled with anxiety and bouts of depression for as long as I can remember. I've learned that despite what the advertising world wants us to think, it's not natural or normal to feel happy all the time. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'”
Moments of true joy are rare. When they happen, they should be acknowledged and cherished. With practice, we can increase the amount of joy we experience. And I don't mean just the immediate rush of excitement and happiness we feel when something awesome happens, like a promotion, or a perfect date, although those moments are fantastic.
I mean experiencing joy on a day-to-day basis: during just a night in with Netflix and your cat, in the morning sipping coffee, even on the subway. One way to do this is to practice gratitude. A quite effective way Emily wrote about is to make a list of things you are thankful for, whether it's through an email chain with friends, in your journal or simply mentally listing them off like a prayer before you go to bed at night.
But back to Maui and the baking sheet.
We were at a beach on our last day in Maui. It was extremely windy that day, creating almost unbearable gusts of sand hitting us in the face. I had grains of sand from that day in my hair for weeks.
For whatever reason, I felt sad and grumpy. I was worrying that my career wasn't progressing fast enough. It was around the time I reached 1,000 followers on Twitter and I remember checking my phone to see if I had gotten there. On a beach in Hawaii worrying about Twitter followers -– it's so absurd I'm embarrassed!
I was also worrying that my boyfriend would never want to live with me (makes perfect sense, right? obsessing about some distant relationship milestone while on a beach with the man who took me to fucking Maui and then Sydney for my 25th birthday). I wasn't enjoying the beauty before me, I was stuck in my bratty little brain, searching for worries to uphold my grumpy mood.
Then I saw the baking sheet.
As mentioned, we had been cooking most of our meals, and the villa we were renting didn't have a baking sheet.
“Oh, if only we had a baking sheet, we could make this, or that,” we lamented daily during our stay.
And then, as we walked along the shore looking for a less windy spot to settle, I saw it. Directly in front of us, there was a baking sheet washed ashore. It was so perfect all I could do was laugh. I laughed so hard I cried.
I don't identify with one religion, but I'm a spiritual person, and it was one of those moments where you realize God, Goddess, the universe, whatever word makes you most comfortable, has quite the sense of humor. That baking sheet was a bitch-slap from the universe: “Sophie, you're on vacation with your true love in Hawaii. You've been whining that your rented villa doesn't have a baking sheet. Well, HERE'S A FUCKING BAKING SHEET! Now shut up and focus on what you do have.”
Skeptics may think it was just a coincidence, but I don't believe in those.
We didn't end up taking the baking sheet because it was our last night and we had already started preparations for a sushi dinner that required no oven, but that baking sheet sure snapped me out of my grumpy mood and reminded me of a few things.
It reminded me that whatever your job is, there will always be somebody more successful than you, and always somebody less successful. There will always be somebody prettier, or skinnier, or with better boobs, and there will always be somebody who would happily trade for your body. Our relationships will never be perfect, because alas, we date humans, imperfect creatures.
Lately, as a meditation in gratitude, I've been trying to actively accept who I am and give thanks for I have in this life. More just letting it be. Less comparing myself to others and more acceptance and joy in myself. Understanding that there's not much more you can do in this life other than stay true to yourself and give it your all. Realizing that you can't always get what you want (okay seriously stop me, now I'm about to quote both John Lennon and the Stones in a single paragraph) but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.
Like a baking sheet washed ashore.