My Year Of Gratitude: How I Learned To Appreciate Every Aspect Of Life

The hot wind whipped across the desert like the sirocco. The heat was overwhelming. With every step the camel took forward, I tried to imprint the moment in my mind and feel gratitude.

But I only felt hot and thirsty.

Halfway through the journey, our guide halted the camels and offered to take a picture of me and my then-boyfriend.

Yes, please document this moment. I want to remember me, on a camel, in the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

Man, it was hot.

Our journey continued, and my butt began to ache. How long had we been on this camel?

I was in the Sahara Desert with only miles of sand dunes in sight. It was just me, my love and our guide. What a gift!

But, I was wearing pants, as instructed by the guide. Why was I wearing skin-tight jeans again?

When we reached the summit two hours later, I was drained. I wanted it to be over, and I just needed to get out of the heat.

As my boyfriend made the most of the experience and attempted to sandboard, I simply watched him, admiring his positive attitude and ebullient personality. He had a zest for life, and he was a kid at heart.

I didn’t sandboard that day. (It was hot, remember?)

I argued (with myself) I’d already done it years before in Peru, and I didn’t feel the need to do it again.

When my boyfriend finished playing around, we sat together on the summit and watched the sun set. He suggested we make a video, documenting the experience.

I agreed, though I had no idea what I’d say. I was too preoccupied by the sick feeling in my stomach and the lightheadedness from dehydration. He turned the camera on me first, and I was caught off guard.

“We just rode a camel for hours, and areas of our body are in a lot of pain,” I said.

My boyfriend repressed his flinch at the first thought that had come out of my mouth. I was too focused on my negative view of the situation to come up with anything else except, “It feels incredible to be in such a great stretch of land, so far from home.”

It was lame, but at least it was true. I did feel a sense of wonderment at being in the midst of a vast desert, and I felt removed from my life back in California.

Then, my boyfriend said, “I feel so grateful to be here. I never imagined life would bring me here, but it feels amazing to experience this, to experience this with Darcie. I hope this isn’t our last trip here, and I hope we continue to see the world together.”

We kissed, and the video ended.

I thought about this event recently, after reading “The Gratitude Diaries” by Janice Kaplan. The book touched me deeply, and as I read, I kept thinking back on my experience in Morocco.

I felt ashamed. Why had I let my negative emotions control my view of what was a once-in-a-lifetime experience?

While I wasn’t ungrateful to be there, I certainly wasn’t making the most of the experience.

I can’t cite just one part of Kaplan’s book that has impacted my life. The truth is, the entire book spoke to me. But there were a few notable quotes that will stick with me long after I pass this book along:

The biggest regret most of us have in looking back is thinking of all the time wasted being unhappy or angry.

This was so true for me.

Instead of asking to wear shorts or requesting a short water break, I chose to complain about all the ways the situation wasn’t living up to my expectations. I chose to focus on the negatives.

Is being overheated fun? No, it’s very uncomfortable.

But I should have figured out ways to deal with it, to avoid letting my bad attitude become a poison and ruin the whole experience for me.

That video of me complaining will live on in infamy. My boyfriend’s appropriate expression of gratitude will forever make me feel embarrassed that I couldn’t match his appreciation of the experience.

As Kaplan wrote,

Can we stop and revel in the moments of daily life, or will we only regret when they have been lost?

I will never get that moment back. I’ll never be able to change how I reacted.

But, I can commit to changing my attitude in the future.

When my boyfriend and I broke up earlier this year, I escaped to Bali for three months. I felt grateful for the gift of being able to get away.

Many people, when they go through breakups, have to continue to show up and perform at their jobs, be supportive of their children and go on with their lives. I was given the opportunity to get away from it all and from the triggers that pervaded my life at home.

Every day I walked around in Bali, I was truly grateful.

I was grateful to live within walking distance of a bakery, where I went for coffee every morning. I was grateful to make friends easily, and I was grateful to share personal anecdotes with them over a glass of wine.

I emerged from the pain of the end of a relationship with such gratitude for everything I still had in my life.

Being away also affirmed how much I had to be grateful for at home. I had two loving parents who supported my decision to go to Bali and to cancel my plane ticket home when six weeks wasn’t long enough.

I had friends who emailed me often to check in, friends who planned frequent Skype dates with me and friends who asked if I needed anything and when was I coming home.

Gratitude bloomed inside me, and I felt happiness like I never knew was possible.

Returning to the US was difficult, and there were days when I wondered if I’d come back too soon. But I knew I had to face those triggers eventually.

They were there, and they weren’t easy. But I got over them quickly.

As Kaplan wrote,

But gratitude could also be an antidote to life’s troubles, helping to put them in perspective and take away the sting.

While I can never change how I viewed the experience in Morocco, I can change my behavior going forward. I have already changed my behavior.

I’ve always been a largely optimistic person, but shifting my mentality to focus on gratitude in trying situations will take some time. It’s already working inside of me. I know I am committed to seeing the bright spots in my future, even on the days life doesn’t seem so sunny.

The message in Kaplan’s book drives this point home:

However dismal global events may be, looking for the bright spots allows us to survive and move on.

Gratitude is what I’m taking with me after a hard year.

I have gratitude for being alive; for the ability to travel freely; for my family and friends; for my love of writing; and for food on the table every night. There are so many things to be grateful for.

I’m counting them every day.