Like the rest of America, I fell in love with Nemo. I rooted for poor Marlin, who…like me…struggles with anxiety and a touch of neurosis. I lavished gratitude on all the fellow creatures who helped father and son reunite along the way.
But my favourite part of the film was the end. I mean…the VERY end. When, after countless failed escape attempts…the tank-enclosed fish Nemo befriended finally find their way to the ocean. They muddy up the tank enough that the dentist (their jailor) needs to pack them up in individual water-filled baggies. While in bags, they push themselves out the window and roll toward the ocean. Success!
But, still in baggies…Bloat, the blowfish, says to the group:
It seems like such a fitting analogy for the way in which we go about the benchmark goals we place for ourselves in life. We imagine that if we just get that job, or meet the right partner, or run that final mile that we will land ourselves in the realm of liberation. But instead, we remain trapped in little baggies of our own making. There is a moment of cheer. A brief pause of celebration. But we are still imprisoned all the same.
Perhaps the Chinese knew what they were talking about when they labeled the phrase: “May you find what you are looking for” as a curse rather than a blessing.
And what, exactly, is trapping us? I imagine it’s different depending upon the person, but in my case – I wrap myself up in a ball of when’s and should’s. I’ll be happy when I achieve X. I should do Y.
That is, of course, NOT how joy, liberation or enlightenment work. Contrary to the views of our forefathers…happiness isn’t something we pursue. It’s something we choose.
I’m not saying that setting personal goals is fruitless. Nor am I saying that wanting a partner in life, or a satisfying career are shallow aims. I merely think it might be worth our while to consider that investing solely in these external achievements won’t be enough to create true contentment.
Instead, the real answer lays right back in the realm of something we had all along. Gratitude. No matter how sorrowful I feel, or how empty my existential crisis of the day leaves me – there is always something for which I am grateful.
I am grateful for my partner, who stays up with me during those nights when I’m terrified and shaking…for after the third night of no sleep, panic and exhaustion threaten to consume me.
I am grateful for my mother, who never made me feel wrong for being sensitive or for having a tendency toward anxiety…but who instead nurtured that sensitivity and made me feel cherished.
I am grateful for my Nana who taught me how to whistle and how to trust.
I am grateful for my father, who taught me how to laugh.
I am grateful for my best friend, whose courage in the face of adversity inspires me to be a better and stronger person- and for her ability to see me when I feel invisible.
I am grateful for the choice I made to go to graduate school and learn about holistic health. It left me in a mountain of student loan debt – but in compensation, it gave me some powerful knowledge to help keep my body well even when my mind seems unwilling to settle.
And I am even grateful for the experiences I have had with anxiety, insomnia, and depression. It was in having these experiences that I was able to cultivate compassion for those I work with now as a health coach. It is also what guided me toward truly powerful and potent healers and practitioners. In meeting them, my life increased tenfold in value.
I could keep going. In fact, if I were to list every blessing for which I had cause to be grateful, I would take up the space of a book.
Gratitude is the sword that can cut through the invisible, plastic shield barricading us from real freedom. And gratitude is the shield which protects us from overwhelm and despair.
Now…all that being said…does this mean that any time we are truly unhappy in our circumstances that we should just buck up and be grateful? No. There is nothing wrong with advocating for one’s self or for moving forward in a new direction. Those poor fish really did need to do some problem-solving and get out of those ridiculous bags.
Change is a part of the game we call life. That’s how we grow. If, however, we can hold tight to gratitude along the way – we won’t have to wait until the “when” to be joyful. We can enjoy both the journey AND the destination.
So now what?
Now, I say…thank you. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to sit still with me and reflect on the importance of gratitude.
Leah M. Burkhart,
Bio: Leah Burkhart is the lead U.S. wellness coach at GOQii in San Francisco as well as a health educator at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, CA. She is especially interested in topics around happiness, positive psychology and holistic health. You can follow her blog at glitteronpavement.com or on twitter @quirkyhealthnut.