Today, I keep a gratitude journal and meticulously track every event, moment, and little thing to appreciate. I now know that gratitude is essential for a harmonious, happy life. But it wasn’t always like this. I used to be especially ungrateful for the struggle. The me from the past thought that hardship wasn’t something to value. Boy was I wrong. Looking back at my experiences, I realize how much of my knowledge derives from the darkest times in my life. So, here’s a letter to my very young, ungrateful self.
It’s 2001. You are sitting in the corner of your bedroom. Swallowing bitter tears. Holding a shabby volume of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in your hands. The pans and pots in the kitchen are empty, and this is your “dinner” tonight — the book. You are starved, irritated, and desperate. You think life is unfair. And you know you deserve more. What you don’t know, though, is that in 17 years, your life will change for the better. You’ll be standing on the very roof of Notre Dame. You will be inhaling crisp March air, looking over Paris, stuffed with snails, and feeling as happy as a clam. It’s good that you don’t know. Otherwise, you won’t push yourself hard enough. So, be unaware of all the greatness that will enter your life. And when the time comes, you will learn to appreciate hardship, and your ungrateful persona will become mindful and whole.
In college, as you are exposed to the brightest minds of your time, you’ll come to understand how ingenuity, creative expression, and collaboration lead to ultimate success. And you’ll realize that you learned all these qualities in your early life, thanks to your gloomiest days. Remember how your mom managed to make tasty dinners combining sunflower oil and practically nothing? Remember getting together with your wild friends and stealing peas from a local farm field to pickle for winter? The ’90s in Ukraine were sinister. But this decade shaped a completely new generation of people to be inventive, emotionally intelligent, adventurous, and bound together. So clench your teeth and keep gaining those killer survival skills and developing your busy brain. Street smarts will eventually lead to book smarts. You’ll see.
In November 2017, Apple Music will invite you to try out for an editorial position. Having just started your job hunt, you will be elated by what seems to be an immediate success. You will put on nice clothes, take a deep breath, rush to the Apple Music office . . . and fail. In fact, the whole thing will blow up in your face so hard, you’ll bet Tim Cook himself hears the uproar. Yes, you will feel futile and exceptionally dumb. You’ll pull your hair and cuss like a sailor. But you know what you won’t do? Give up. Instead, you’ll turn this incident into two compelling motivational stories and get them published. Not bad, huh? Trust me, deriving wisdom from your fiascoes will be one of the most valuable lessons that you learn.
Killing yourself over memorizing all the capitals of the world for your 10th-grade geography project will finally pay off. You’ll forever leave your country, find refuge in the US, and travel frequently. And after seeing the gingerbread-like houses of Sweden, The Little Mermaid crying over the fjords in Denmark, picture-perfect sunsets of Mexico and the ancient ruins of Jerusalem, you’ll forgive the homeland that was once hostile to you. You will realize that it made you the strong person you are today. You’ll also realize you should never shy away from your culture. You’ll be grateful for all the wonderful folklore and turn to it for endless inspiration. And although you’ll like to think of yourself as a “citizen of the world,” every time you’re asked, you’ll proudly say, “I am Ukrainian.”
Reading will remain your greatest passion. You’ll read thousands of books, but these three will spark your gratitude like no other because they will teach you to meet the struggle with a chin held high.
1. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Fearless Pippi will be your partner in crime and a loyal companion ever since you turn the first page of the book. She will make you appreciate the old apple tree in the garden and your great grandma’s vintage collection of colorful buttons. If you hadn’t spent hours hanging out in that tree and rearranging those buttons, you wouldn’t have been so resourceful and creative later in life. Also, for lack of fancy toys, Pippi will help you invent the most awesome games to entertain your mischievous baby sister. So don’t be sad that you don’t have a Tamagotchi. Thanks to this experience, the both of you will have something much better: leadership skills and a vivid imagination.
P.S: You probably would be happy to hear that even in your 20s, you always re-read this book every summer.
2. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
You’ll employ Pollyanna’s “Glad Game” in your daily routine as well. Finding something good in the worst possible situations will come in handy. See the Apple Music fiasco above.
3. City of Thieves by David Benioff
You’ll relate to this one well. The lack of security, stability, food, and simple necessities are all too familiar to you. But Benioff will show you how to use humor as a weapon against any problem (or person). Most of the people will know him as a “Game of Thrones” scriptwriter; you’ll forever know him as a brilliant novelist who taught you that the strongest friendships are made in sorrow. As an added bonus, your greediness for the written word will eventually turn you into a writer. Don’t quit making up those silly stories. One day, you’ll see your fiction published in three different languages.
You’ll encounter numerous bullies and malicious people in your life, but you will also make relationships with amazing friends and inspiring mentors. Your growing appreciation will help you cut out toxicity while keeping the most genuine, loyal loved ones near. You’ll also start a family and learn that gratitude between two partners can overcome any crisis. And finally, you will always keep in mind that showing gratitude in a professional environment (sending thank you notes, being appreciative of your team) goes a long way. So, my dear ungrateful self, be thankful for all the hoops you have to jump through in your earlier years because all those obstacles will lead to the arena of your prosperity.
Your older, more grateful self
Born and raised in Southern Ukraine, Marina moved to the US with her family in 2008. She has a degree in English (creative writing concentration) from UC Los Angeles and works as “galley slave to pen and ink” for American, Russian and Ukrainian publications.
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