January 28, 2021

Three Good Things

When the pandemic stopped being new and instead became the new normal, the world suddenly felt very heavy to me.

The year had started out with so much promise: after years of infertility, I had a vibrant and healthy baby boy who was thriving; our restaurant COPA was on track to turn a profit for the first time since opening 2 years prior; my publishing work felt deeply satisfying; I had found a good rhythm; I felt balanced. Everything was finally coming together. And then, almost overnight, it was all coming apart.

When it became apparent that a two-week lockdown was going to turn into four weeks and four weeks was going to turn into months, and months might become years, I began to despair. How did we get here? It didn’t have to be like this.

In a moment of self-pity, I remembered something my mother used to do with me when I was a child and would feel overcome by the world. In middle school, especially, I’d come home in tears, despondent. When she’d ask me about my day, I would begin to rattle off the many terrible wrongs I had witnessed or experienced.

My mother would stop me, often mid sentence, and say, “I want to hear all about what went wrong. But first, I want you to tell me three good things.”

“There is nothing good!” I would often protest.

She was unrelenting.

I would begin to think of something good—anything trivial, really—so I could get to the important stuff: the cafeteria served my favorite lunch, I finished my math homework early, I had a good book to read, the day was nearing its end. None of these things really mattered in the grand scheme of things, even 12-year-old me knew that. But there was good in them.

When I finished the exercise, my mom would say, “Now, tell me what it is you wanted to say earlier.”

As often as not, I would reply, “Oh, well, I suppose it wasn’t all so bad after all.”

Pausing to count three good things helped me to keep my balance when it felt as if the whole world was trying to knock me over.

I don’t think my mother knew it then, but science backs her up. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of practicing gratitude, of naming out loud a few good things.

Last year, when once again it felt as if the world was trying its best to knock me over, I took up my mother’s exercise. I began to name three good things. Sometimes I would share my list on social media. Other times I would store the items in my heart. Always, I felt better. This was not a surprise to me.

What was a surprise was the number of people who would reach out to me to thank me for my posts. They told me they had begun the practice with their children or their spouses or themselves. They found encouragement in the mundane recognition of the good in a day well-lived. In their expression of gratitude, I found an even greater gift: the reminder that I am rarely happier than when I can use my words to connect with people; at my core, I am a writer.

Roberto, my husband, would not be surprised by this revelation. He wouldn’t even think it a revelation, for he has often encouraged me to write. When recently we were having a conversation about our purpose in life, he brought up my writing. He gently reminded me that I am finally at a place once more where I could make time to write if I wanted to. “This is a luxury you have,” he said. “It is a privilege.”

I have thought about his words for weeks. He is not wrong. The means, the time, and the mental energy to write are indeed a luxury. It is a privilege one should not squander.

There is evil all around us—we cannot deny it. But there is also much good. I would even venture to say there is more good. We need only to pause long enough in our tumult to bear witness to it. If we are very lucky indeed, we may even be able to put it into words.

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