I feel like in the past couple of years there has been an influx in our conversations about gratitude and appreciation. We’re told to always be grateful for what we have and appreciate where we’re at and yadda yadda yadda like it is always a conscious choice where we put our feelings or even how we feel.

I was talking to one of my friends the other day and she was telling me she was proud of me for all that I’ve done this month. Moved out of an unhealthy living situation, officially started a relationship, published a book, started a new job… I hadn’t taken stock of my life in that way in a long time. I was humbled by what I had done and also shocked that I hadn’t recognized fully all that I had accomplished. The thing that got me the most though was that I still didn’t feel that proud feeling I expected. I wasn’t overcome by relief or emotion. I didn’t have an epiphic moment where I came into some other-worldly outside of myself realization of my worth and how far I’ve come.

Instead I realized that my lack of recognition for where I’d gotten myself was because it felt like it was necessary to not give too much weight to these instances so I could keep growing and moving forward.

My friend pointed out to me that it is sometimes necessary to not take stock. To close our eyes and keep plowing through – to not compare or judge, but simply just do. To realize later that you had gotten ahead and were okay and strong. But that to do this forever is it’s own kind of depression.

I feel like the past year has been about realizing and recognizing my true power and potential in my life. There was a lot less fear this year than there ever has been, which means all that energy I was able to put into faith. The challenges I took with a grain of salt and took on the mindset of knowing everything is temporary – but this survival mechanism also stole some joy from me. I was less able to be grateful for what I do have and who I am because I know it’s temporary too – or more, I make it temporary by living like this constantly. I wasn’t aware of the learning curve I was dipping into and how often the changes we make can sometimes bring us into even more of the same.

Something I’ve been working really hard on is gratitude. I feel that I am an appreciative person, but while these things seem similar on the surface they each have distinct qualities to them.

Appreciation is marked as the recognition and enjoyment of something. It is a mental quality. It is an acknowledgement.

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful. An appreciation for, but also the return of kindness. It is cyclical and emotional. It is a feeling.

It is easy for me to recognize the good in my life. To be thankful for it in a cognitive way and to show that to the people who help and support me. I am aware of the blessings in my life. Gratitude, however, feels more profound. It feels out of reach in the same way that trust for my life, as it is, seems unattainable as well. Gratitude feels settled, and I do not feel settled within myself as much as it may seem that I am from the outside.

How do I cultivate this? How do I learn it? What does this really feel like?

In my experience gratitude is familiar in the way that a routine is – but a routine that isn’t cyclical so much as it is listening to oneself . I can feel myself slowly familiarizing myself with the time I have to look after only my own needs. I have willfully distracted myself for years and always feel an apathy when it comes to taking care of myself – instead I choose to distract myself further by always pushing towards goals and ambitions.

I think I akin gratitude with complacency sometimes. While things in my life are growing or upgrading I feel a need to keep working until there is an even keel across the board, even with the knowledge that it’s unrealistic. That life does not work in measured blocks and change takes energy. Energy means I need to rest.

I just moved into a new apartment – my first solo one. Then I started thinking about my jobs and if I’m satisfied in them, what I’m doing to make it as an artist, am I doing enough for the community, am I doing my half of the work in my relationship (i.e. am I taking care of myself first, like my boyfriend does for himself)? And on, and so forth. Even though I just published a book and write every day and am working on art projects I love and feel happy and healthy in my home and love life and work life I catch myself in my auto-pilot of dissatisfaction.

Is this a good reason to move forward? Are these feelings motivating me out of fear or faith? Am I assessing my life and circumstances truthfully or through the lens of my ego that says I should always be doing more and have more and be seen as bigger or whatever the fuck it is?

What I’m learning is that the ego is often a survival mechanism. It is essential to us, but also needs to be kept in check. It needs time to rest and be put away after it has cleared the path for us, or it will continue to destruct the other things around us. For me, this is specifically rampant in the joy department. Centring myself to trust the good that’s already in my life has always been something I find challenging. I instead choose to chase joy and to seek it out – appreciating what I have only as a platform to get me to what I could have.

How does one change this? How do we slow down and take stock? Why do I feel stuck in my life when I feel happy? What is so intimidating about choosing the joy I have right here, right now?

I don’t have the answers, but I know that replacing one bad habit with another isn’t what I want to be doing. I don’t want to fill my life with good because it is a distraction. I do not want to avoid time with myself by deluding myself that a full life and a full schedule are the same thing. That the quantity of things I do is more important than the quality of things I do.

I feel dissatisfaction rampantly at times of major change. When one thing levels up I want to continue to grow in all other aspects – I feel on the edge of this new growth and often panicked at the pace of everything else. Am I excelling or slowing?

I’m taking this month to consciously and actively take stock of my life. To do the difficult work of doing less with more awareness. To assess the connections of my mental/physical/emotional wellbeing and how I can support my whole self equally.