Thanksgiving is this week, although being an English girl I don’t celebrate it.
Our November holiday is Guy Fawkes, also known as Bonfire night, which involves setting off fireworks and eating toffee apples.
When I was a little girl, it was usual for children to make a person out of their mother’s old tights by stuffing them with newspaper, then throw the figure on a bonfire made by your dad in the back garden!
Burning figures made from tights and newspaper isn’t so common now, but we still have the fireworks.
Anyway, before I stray too far from the point, being thankful, and even choosing a month in which to be thankful, is something I can happily go along with even if I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.
Last month, I had reason to remember that I have a lot to be thankful for.
We went down to London visit my family. My parents were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary and they were having a party.
Although I was born in and grew up in London, and lived there for a while as a young adult, it hasn’t felt like home in a long time.
I’ve got to a point where I quite like to go down to London for the day, or maybe a weekend, and visit some museums. We had a lovely weekend there in the summer. We had tickets for the immersive Van Gogh thing, and we spent most of the rest of the time walking through London’s parks (it’s a very green city).
Often the best part of going somewhere is coming home, and that’s definitely how I feel about London! Going back there to live doesn’t appeal at all.
Over the weekend of my parents’ party I was reminded of how much there is in my life that I have to be thankful for, especially when I consider how life might look if we’d stayed in London.
Things I am Thankful For
Being At Home
I can be there for my children. Although my boys don’t need their mum in the same way they did when they were toddlers, they do still need me. I also think it’s much nicer for them to come home and I’m there, than come home to an empty house.
Being at home also allowed me to make the best choice for my boys when Barnabas was having problems at school. It meant I could take him, and the others, out of an environment that wasn’t doing them any good. I could offer all three of them something that wasn’t just an alternative to school, but something that was better.
Not Feeling Obliged To Focus On a Career
I’ll have time for this once my kids are grown, if it’s something I decide I want. I’m not driven by material things or status in the eyes of other people. I want to do something that feels meaningful. At the moment it’s raising my family. 10 years from now it will be something else. Exactly what it will be I don’t know! I’m going to wait and see.
There are aspects of the career/ motherhood debate that are often ignored, like whether the jobs people have are meaningful to them (for some people they are), or whether it is just a job.
Living here in Norfolk, the pressure to have a career isn’t too much, and what there is I’m able to ignore, at least most of the time.
Feeling Insulated From Other People’s Ideas of Success.
While in London, I was very aware that success included owning an expensive pram, being willing to pay £9 for a tiny quiche, and having a job that paid well enough to make them affordable.
On the morning after my parents’ party, we went to the park. I was looking forward to getting into one of London’s glorious green spaces, and to revisiting memories from my childhood with my own children.
Unfortunately there was a parkrun, complete with stalls toting overpriced nonsense. I’d thought it would be a chance to reconnect with nature, but it had been turned into a shopping thing.
Working full time outside of the home might enable somebody to buy overpriced quiche in a park on a Sunday morning while pushing an expensive pram, but that’s not what I want from my life. I am thankful that I am free to say no thank you.
Being Able To Get Out Into Nature Easily
The village where we live has changed quite a lot in the 19 years that we’ve lived here. It’s got bigger, and places that were green now have houses on them.
Even so, I don’t have to walk very far before there are open fields and birds singing.
It makes so much of a difference to me, that I can go outside and be aware of the seasons changing and the beauty of nature, without having to go very far. And the photos I’ve used in this post are all ones I’ve taken in my village while I’ve been outside over the last couple of weeks.
There Are Lots Of Other Things That I Am Thankful For Too
I am thankful that my boys’ school is only round the corner from our house, and they are all home by 3.15. That the park is a similar distance and it’s safe enough that they can go there on their own to play football with their friends if they want to. That growing up in a village means that they have friends who are new friends, and others who they’ve known since they were 5.
I’m thankful that there’s a bus stop at the end of the road, that I’m healthy, that my boys and husband are all well, that I have a roof over my head and food to feed my family with, for free healthcare, for sunny days, for grey days, for starry nights. For my ginger cat, my washing machine and my tiny back garden where weeds grow very well and is a haven for wildlife. For growing older and for knowing better who I am. For friends and people to talk to. There’s always something to be thankful for.
This feels like a bit of an odd thing to write about now!
We talk a lot about being thankful. It’s everywhere. But we talk a lot less about feeling disgruntled and dissatisfied.
Much as I wouldn’t swap my life for that of somebody with a beautiful house and a career, it’s far from perfect and sometimes I feel trapped.
I don’t want to feel like that. None of us do. But feeling disgruntled happens to all of us. And somebody telling us that we should be thankful that they aren’t living in the developing world or in a warzone doesn’t help very much. Of course we have it better. That doesn’t mean necessarily that we are always happy.
Remove As Much From Your Life As You Can That Makes You Feel Dissatisfied
Sometimes we fall into the trap of comparing our lives with what we see on the internet or in adverts and magazines.
Adverts and marketing are designed to make us feel dissatisfied. They tell us that our lives would be better and we would be happier if we only had the thing they are trying to sell us. An unbelievable amount of stuff in magazines, especially lifestyle ones, is marketing!
Things we see on the internet are often a heavily edited version of reality.
In the past, people would have their public side, and what happened at home was private.
Now we see into people’s private lives as well, and it’s easy to forget that what is shared is what people want us to see. It’s still an edited version, not the raw, unfiltered truth, whatever people would have us believe.
People also tend not to be entirely open about exactly how they manage to achieve the levels of perfection that they seem to! The woman with the perfect home, perfect kids and perfect career is unlikely to be managing on her own. There will be at the very least willing grandparents or a childminder, and probably a cleaner. There might be a live in nanny, tradespeople employed when rooms need decorating or the gutters need cleaning and somebody to do the garden. The kids might spend a lot of time in front of a screen or being looked after by somebody else, even when the parents are not at work. She might have a very understanding boss or a stay at home husband.
Even being aware that what we are seeing is probably not the whole picture, it’s still difficult not to feel that our own lives do not measure up.
So the best thing to do is to limit our exposure to the things that make us feel dissatisfied. Stay off Pinterest and Instagram, or, if you can’t or don’t want to, limit it. Don’t read lifestyle magazines or watch TV shows that make you feel bad.
The tricky thing is that sometimes these things are habits. It’s very easy to start scrolling through social media while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or while you’re in the queue at the post office.
So fill that time with something else. Make a list of 2 minute jobs and do those while you’re waiting for the kettle. Read a book or play a brain training game on your phone while you’re waiting in a queue.
Identify What You Are About
Being a homebody is fine. Think about what you are, not what you are not! Penguins can’t fly and they waddle in funny way, but seeing them in the water is something else.
There have been occasions in the past when I’ve looked at somebody else’s life and felt that mine didn’t measure up. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want to do what they were doing, or even want my life to be like that! Some of it was societal expectations that I have chosen to ignore, but sometimes it’s hard to ignore them when they are being dangled right in front of your face.
The most effective way I’ve found to deal with this when it happens is to take stock of my own life. What is important to me? What are my values? How does success look in the light of my values and what I consider important?
For me, the things that matter are doing what’s best for my family and truly being the person I have been designed to be. Truthfulness, kindness and compassion, integrity and creativity in all its forms are the things I value most highly. Money, status, and the opinions of other people matter a lot less.
Identifying what we are about and what we hold dear makes it much less easy to fall into the comparison trap.
Take Control Of Your Life
Lots of things in life we can’t control. Unreasonable bosses, messy kids who spend hours in the bathroom when all we want to do is have a shower and go to bed, neighbours who complain about everything, dog poo in the street. But there are things we can control. The Serenity Prayer is very useful in these kind of situations. It goes something like, “God grant me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It doesn’t matter whether you have a religious faith or not. The point is that some things we can change and some things we cant. Letting go of the things we can’t change, and taking little steps to change what we can makes a difference to how we feel about things.
So what can you do to take control of your life?
I know it’s a cliche, but I love the proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. Any little changes you can make is a step in the right direction.
So look at the things you can change and start there.
Make Things Easier For Yourself
Nobody wants to feel stressed. It’s much easier to feel happy and content if you feel that you have a handle on day to day life.
Sometimes all that’s needed is a little bit of forward planning. If you know what’s coming up, you can get things ready beforehand. That way you won’t be rushing around or getting stressed and things will run more smoothly. I’ve learnt this the hard way!
If you have to go out later, do you know what shoes you are going to wear? Do you know where they are? Where your car keys? Is there anything you’ll need to take anything else with you? Get it all ready in advance and put it by the door.
If you’re taking a child swimming tomorrow, check that the swimming kit is clean and dry, pop some talc in the swimming hat and put it by the door.
Other things you can do to make life easier for yourself:
Plan meals in advance and write a shopping list. I have a rolling menu that runs for 4 weeks. When we get to the end of week 4 we go back to week 1 again. I have lists saved on Tesco so the shopping takes me minutes. Having done this for a few years now, I have a bank of meals that people will eat, and don’t generate too much washing up, and the menu takes into account things like being out for most of the day and evenings when the boys have activities.
Sit down with your diary on a Sunday night and see what’s coming up. That way there will be less surprises, and from that you that you can write a to do list.
Get things ready the night before. If when you go to bed, you know you’re ready for the next day, you’ll probably sleep better and you’ll have a calmer start in the morning. This leads to less stress and generally feeling happier.
Plan when you’re going to do things. Knowing that you need or want to do things but not getting around to them can be a source of frustration and stress. So decide when you’re going to do things, and be realistic! You might need to move some things around. For example, I usually do housework on a Saturday morning, but if I know we’re going to be out, or if I want to use that time for something else, I’ll try and get it done in the week instead.
If you haven’t already come across her, Flylady is good for getting things to run more smoothly at home.
Make Things Nicer For Yourself
Things that feel like treats don’t always need to cost a lot money! Two ways to make things nicer for yourself are to have little things to look forward to, and to change things up that make you feel bad.
Getting rid of clothes that are too tight gives you more space in your wardrobe and you’ll no longer be reminded of weight you’ve gained every time you open the wardrobe.
Having a decent coat and waterproof shoes, plus scarf and gloves makes going outside less horrible when the weather’s bad.
Claim a spot for yourself. An armchair or corner of the sofa, with a cushion, a blanket, a lmap and somewhere to put a hot drink. You probably have what you need already, so have a look and sort yourself out with your own little corner.
Get your bedroom ready for sleeping earlier in the day. At this time of year when it gets dark early, I do this at about 4.30 pm. I go into my bedroom, pull the blind down and close the curtains. I put the lamp on and the electric blanket. If I haven’t already, I fluff up the pillows. You might also like to sprinkle some lavender oil on your pillow, arrange some flowers in a vase and a have selection of books ready if you are a reader. Then I leave it until bedtime. When I go to bed, it’s already ready for me, and although it might sound daft, it feels like a treat!
Lamps. Lamps make a home feel cosy. They also have the added benefit of casting shadows on places where there might be mess or dust!
If you are out during the day and you arrive home in the dark, you could use timers for your lamps so that they are already on when you get home.
Early mornings. If you have young children, you might not have much control over how your day starts. But for the rest of us, first thing in the morning is a good time to set ourselves up for the rest of the day by making it look the way we want it to.
The first thing is to decide what time you’re going to get up. If you have a family to look after, getting up at least half an hour before they do will give you a little bit of time to enjoy some peace before chaos decends!
The second thing is to decide what you want to do. Having a massive list is not a good idea. Instead, choose one or two things. DO you want to go for a walk? Or light a fire and enjoy the quiet? Maybe you want to read or knit. Make this time special for you. It will fuel you up for the rest of the day.
Lunch and other meals. It’s an unfortunate truth that the things we often like eating are the things that are not good for us!
Choosing to eat things that are nourishing is better for us in the long run. Make sure that you have things in that are good to eat.
You could throw some veg in the slow cooker first thing in the morning and turn it into soup. Then sit down and take a break.
Use plates that you like. Junk shops are a good source of pretty vintage plates and teacups if that’s your thing.
Put some flowers on the table, or a table cloth. It doesn’t take much longer and you’ll feel so much better than if you resort to stuffing down a sausage roll while running around!
Do the same with breakfast and dinner. Cook meals that are nutritious and take the time to enjoy them.
What works for you when you’re feeling disgruntled? You can leave a comment below if you’d like to share!