If I were to choose one word to describe the year of 2016, it would be crazy. Pretty much everyone I know has faced some major challenge, and most world news updates were far from happy.
Yet, as it often happens, the toughest times bring about the most valuable lessons and the most sincere gratitude.
Here are four most important things I have learned this year:
Everyone is dealing with something
Living in the era of polished social media channels, it is easy to fall under the illusion of perfection. Everyone, from top celebrities to next door neighbors, seems to have carefree lives, clear of troubles and sorrows.
For years, I have been chasing the ideal pictures in my head, often feeling I was coming short of the world's standards. Then, in 2016, hidden stories started coming in from all ends.
One of the most inspiring wives and mothers I know confessed she's been having a long-term disagreement with her own mother. Wealthy acquaintances living the life of traveling and socializing turned out to be fighting their daughter's heroin addiction. Parents-in-law of one of my most upbeat friends have been diagnosed with cancer.
People rarely reveal their invisible battles, but everyone has one to fight.
When we compare ourselves to others and feel mesmerized by the shiny cover of their lives, we really don't know what we wish for. We are all struggling in some way or another.
Just embrace your battle, let it go and know that you are not alone.
Death doesn't have to be terrifying
For our family, the year of 2016 started in quite a tragic way. On the New Year's Day, my husband's grandfather had a major stroke, which left him half-paralyzed and half-unconscious, unable to walk, eat or talk.
There is hardly an experience more heartbreaking than seeing a person you love suffer every day. Normally smiley and optimistic, our dear grandpa now was constantly carrying a deep wrinkle of pain between his eyebrows.
After seven months, he passed away. The night when he took his last breath that wrinkle smoothed out, and an expression of quiet peace came to his face. It even seemed he was slightly smiling.
We are used to thinking of death as the scariest experience of all, but it doesn't always have to be one. Sometimes it comes as a relief, as liberation from pain.
To us the survivors, the loss of the loved ones is agonizing, yet to the ones that have departed the experience might be totally different.
The truth is we don't know what hides behind the curtain. Maybe, it's all not as bad as we think.
Pain is the price of love
Witnessing my grandma-in-law lose the love of her life and her husband of almost 57 years has taught me another thing. Whenever we dare to love truly and deeply, we put ourselves at a risk of being hurt.
Throughout my life I have witnessed many dysfunctional marriages. To such couples, the loss of their partner might be sad, but not devastating, because their connection vanished long time ago.
It is those who have the most admirable relationships that suffer the most when they have to part. The people who did not love deeply managed to escape the possible pain, but they also seem to have missed out on something significant: the joy of having a soulmate.
Whenever we open our heart, we become vulnerable, but whenever we close it, we shut down a very important part of ourselves. If we love someone dearly, we will likely get hurt at some point, and that's OK. Feeling pain is just a part of being able to feel at all.
As humans, we always have a freedom of choice. We can play it safe or take chances. Safety might feel more comfortable, but it is through taking that risk that we can fulfill our true purpose.
The most important answers lie within yourself
For years, I've been plagued with doubt and indecisiveness. I've been asking hundreds of questions and searching for answers in the world around me. I would read smart books, listen to experienced people, subscribe to promising newsletters and enroll in innovative courses.
Every day some new information would enter my brain, bring a hope for happiness and then mix with the already existing knowledge and cause nothing but confusion.
It would also leave me with the anxiety of not being able to grasp everything in this world and fear of not being able to stay on top of things.
A few months ago I realized that I am so full of expert opinions and life-changing tips that I don't even understand what I myself want, feel and prefer.
I would trust anyone in this world, but myself, and that left me with one feeling: being lost.
So I quietly unsubscribed from all the promising newsletters, turned down the voices of advisors and put the information flow on hold. And there, in the silence of my mind, the longed-for answers started appearing.
Oftentimes, we are led to believe that the true knowledge is the privilege of the outer world.
We are bombarded by headlines promising us 10 ultimate tips for happy living, seven steps to building a successful career and five things we need to do today to discover our calling.
Every day we hear so many voices that sometimes we stop noticing the most important one: the voice of our inner self.
The truth is, deeply inside, we all know what's right and what's wrong, what brings us happiness and who we truly area. The most important answers are already there, in our heart.
We just need to shut down all the noise and listen.