(Originally published for "Choices" magazine, personal growth/development)
Now that I’m halfway through my thirties, my working definition of “prosperity” has taken a drastic shift. While I used to think prosperity was the exact definition Webster gave us: “wealth, affluence, milk, and honey,” I’ve come to see it as more than the one-liner we expect. “Prosperity” isn’t limited to the size of one’s bank account; rather it is an individual’s decision to live a purposeful life. Let me explain:
As anyone who’s lived long enough knows, there are seasons of life that ebb and flow, and there are others where the waters are unsteady or even unkind. While this year has reaped definite blessings for us,—a long awaited trip with our kids to Disneyland, the publication of my first book, a move to a friendly neighborhood-we already know 2017 won’t go down as our easiest year.
In these last months we’ve also endured a job loss, a recent miscarriage, and uncertainty about our next steps. Though some seasons contain enduring joy, my guess is that many of your lives look like this too: you’re watching the light show at Disneyland one moment and you’re in a hospital bed having to accept unhappy news the next.
What I’m coming to realize through life’s trials, other than the fact they require a lot of grit, is that a person can maintain his/her prosperous mindset no matter the season. If you remember that you’re here for a God given purpose, life’s currents won’t sweep you over quite as easily.
You don’t have to love the hardships you’re facing to maintain a prosperous mindset. Admitting that something is painful and hard is often healthy: the acknowledgement leads you to people who have walked your road and to books that nourish and guide you (“Rising Strong” by Brene Brown and “Unsinkable Faith” by Tracie Miles are two that come to mind). There are days that might feel “heavy,” when you didn’t accomplish all you wanted to, but your determination to show up anyway reveals your heart and your character.
My husband recently brought home a special edition of Time magazine called “The Science of Happiness.” While the bright yellow cover stared up at me for a few weeks, I recently read the issue cover-to-cover, and what I found in a lot of its pages were articles reiterating the importance of being “present.” In an age with unprecedented attention to social media, Netflix, and multitasking, it can take some effort to “ground” yourself in the here and now. But it’s so worth it to check ourselves when we’re numbing out, scrolling through everyone else’s highlight reels, instead of giving our presence to the family and friends right in front of us.
According to a recent Harvard study of 5,000 people, “adults spend only about 50% of their time in the present moment…Scientists found that when we are in the present moment, we are also at our happiest, no matter what we are doing” (“The Science of Happiness,” Time magazine).
While you might have a business that profits from the use of social media (as I do), you can still scale back on the amount of time you allow yourself on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the rest. Living in the present moment--whether that entails piecing together a puzzle with your kids or stopping to analyze flowers on a nature walk--helps drown out the unnecessary noise and puts you on the path to what is most important and valuable in your life.
Once, when I wasn’t feeling the most prosperous or happy, I met my aunt Susan at a local coffee house. As someone who wakes up thinking about coffee, or rather what flavor I’ll be putting in it, I highly anticipated my morning drink. But I wasn’t necessarily grateful for it until my aunt said something along the lines of, “Aren’t we fortunate to have so many choices? A lot of people don’t have something so cold and delicious on a hot day.” Her words gave me pause and reminded me that I had a gratitude deficit. Instead of keeping my thoughts tilted to all that was right and good, I was stuck on disappointments I couldn’t even control.
There’s a reason that psychologists recommend their patients keep a gratitude journal; studies have shown that those who exercise this practice are up to 25% happier than those who don’t (“The Power of Gratitude,” Time).
While life can deal harsh winds, it’s important to do what you can to keep your thoughts afloat. Jotting down even three things you’re grateful for in a given day can help remind you of the beauties and blessings we take for granted every day. In writing down our lists, we’re finding our footing, reminding ourselves that even if the circumstances aren’t what we’d wanted or exactly ideal, we can keep pressing onward and live a prosperous (meaningful, purposeful) life anyway.