I was listening to the oldies station the other day and the song, American Pie, by Don McLean came on. I was alone in my car, so I belted out the lyrics “drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry” with abandon. It made me think of the first time I heard the song in 1971. My boyfriend (later my husband who eventually became my ex husband) and I were driving my car to the Salt River. Somehow singing “Drove my Dodge to the river, but the river’s not dry” just didn’t have the same pizzaz. But I digress.
The song is about the death of Buddy Holly and has the famous line, “the day the music died.” I enjoy listening to music. On occasion I compose an original song, or spoof silly lyrics to an existing melody. Music is a source of joy for me. However, there was a time when the music died in my life.
In the late 1990s I separated from my husband of 26 years. I tried to rebuild a life for myself and my youngest daughter, Brittany. It was a difficult and painful time. In a matter of months my marriage dissolved, I was laid off from my job of eight years, my teenage daughter was skipping school and in danger of flunking out, and two of my closest friends deserted me. My confidence was in the toilet. I mistakenly thought a relationship would make things good again. I found a new love, but to my chagrin, I was dumped after three months. I was a middle-aged, college-educated woman, yet I seemed unsuccessful in making my way in the world. Every time I turned on the radio, a song from a happier past hit me like a slap across the face. I turned the radio off and drove in silence. I did this for months.
Then one day as I was driving home from work, I turned the radio on so I could hear the traffic report. A happy song floated through the air waves. Instead of changing the station, I let the song play. I’m not sure why, but something shifted in my pessimistic brain. I looked at the horizon and noticed a gorgeous sunset. It was, in fact, a beautiful spring day. Why hadn’t I noticed this before? Nothing in my situation had changed, only my thoughts. I felt happy again. I decided to build on that. If I could be happy for five minutes, I could be happy for 15. In time, minutes stretched to hours, and hours into days.
Once I realized that I could shift my thoughts from the old “woe as me” and concentrate on the many good things in my life, I felt better. It wasn’t like there wasn’t anything good in my life. I just chose to concentrate – okay DWELL - on the negatives. It was no wonder I felt rotten.
Every day since then, I make it a point to think of a few things I’m grateful for. I wake up and say out loud how happy I am to be alive. As I go through my morning routine I continue contemplating the many wonderful things I have – my health, my family, my friends… The list goes on. As I read the paper I realize how fortunate I am that I can read. There are a lot of people in the world where literacy is a luxury. I have use of all of my five senses, touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell. I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat. I may not always agree with the political shenanigans that take place, but I am grateful to live in the United States where we enjoy a number of freedoms that others can only imagine.
The joy generated from an optimistic outlook is not unique. It is well documented that individuals who express appreciation on a daily basis feel happier and enjoy a more fulfilling life. I just read an article that states that individuals who express gratitude in their lives report fewer physical maladies, sleep better, are more optimistic, exercise more, and enjoy a greater sense of connectedness with others.
In our upcoming book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, a whole chapter is dedicated to gratitude (Oh Gracious Me!) Every single person who was interviewed for the book commented on how important expressing gratitude was for their success and happiness in life. So if you don’t already have a gratitude journal, recite daily affirmations, or take note of the blessings in your life, why not give it a try? The only thing you have to lose is a little negativity.