This past week I turned 31. In fact it was a special ‘number day’ as I was 31 on the 31st. As another year passes by, I reflect upon things that I have been thankful for and have listed one for every year of my life in approximate age-order. It’s a long read, but I figure a once-a-year lengthily-written gratitude journal is fine. I was surprised to see what immediately came into my head to form the list as some were rather unexpected or seem basic at face value. It’s a really nice gratitude exercise, so have a try when your next birthday comes round. It’s also great for clarifying what your own life lessons have been and see how far you have come.
1. Mum and Dad
I think it’s only apt to dedicate the first thing to be thankful for as my parents. I wouldn’t be here without them and each have really supported me through thick and thin. A lot of the following points were also only possible through their support.
2. My sister
When you look back at those first things you were thankful for in life, it will bring back memories of those who were there from the start. My sister has been a great friend to me and also the worst hairdresser anyone could have asked for (she gave me a 2cm ‘cracked egg’ looking fringe when we were kids and I haven’t let her touch my hair ever since!).
3. My childhood toys
When I was a kid I used to place my toys in a hugging queue, each night hugging the toy at the front of the queue and then moving it to the back. I guess at that age I was learning to be fair. Even the scary looking toys got hugs because after all, in my young mind, just because they looked scary didn’t mean they weren’t as kind as the rest. During really difficult moments of my childhood, when I felt lonely or troubled and had no one to talk to, I’d confide in my stuffed toys. It may sound kooky, but it really was cathartic…and they were great listeners, never interrupting what I had to say 😉
This is a weird one, but since I was a kid I loved eating vegetables. A bowl of sweetcorn for a snack, or spinach (dad told me I would be strong like Popeye). As big as a meat eater as I once was, in hindsight it doesn’t surprise me at all that I became a vegetarian. I love to imagine veg growing in a farmer’s field for some months, with the sun and rain helping it to grow and it eventually landing up on my plate. How lucky we are that the earth provides in this way.
5. Pens and pencils
Another odd sounding one, but I just loved (and still do) to draw when I was younger! I used to have a Crayola crayon suitcase, which was the first time I learnt what colour periwinkle was. One Christmas when I was beyond 20 years old, mum bought me an eraser and a sharpener. I think everyone was surprised how happy I was to receive the gift, but it really was right up there in terms of gifts, especially seeing as it is one of the few presents I recall! Anything arty and/or practical keeps me a happy bunny.
6. Musical instruments
I think back through every cello I was loaned from school and then the one my mum bought me for my 18th birthday, which was such a surprise as we were not a well-to-do family so I know a lot of time, thought and effort would have gone into the gift. The old electric piano that saw me through so many years of performance. My dalliance with the erhu. Many years of recorder bands. Choirs. Ensembles. Guitars. And now my many harmonicas. Music has always played a part in my life and is something I truly love.
7. My first music teacher
My first music teacher was a primary school teacher who I still keep in contact with to this day and who sends me birthday cards every year without fail! She patiently taught me the recorder through the Abacadabra series of books and started my love for music. We would play duets a lunchtime a week. For an introvert and ethnic minority individual in an area rife with racism, it was a massive relief to have a lunchtime where I didn’t need to be in a sometimes upsetting social setting, and instead could really enjoy myself.
8. Greenwich Park
I remember having so much fun during trips out to the park. I was awful at playing frisbee, but used to love rolling down hills and having picnics. I remember more than one occasion of losing my tooth to a Quality Street toffee penny and swearing I would never eat one again (an oath I kept to this day).
9. Holidays to Malaysia
I have a lot of family in Malaysia and I used to love travelling there to see my many uncles, aunts and cousins. Over the years from being one of the youngest cousins for my generation on my dad’s side, I proudly became an aunt, with many of my cousins having children. I’m now a great aunt, with some of my cousins children having children! It was always one magical family meet up, with the most delicious food.
10. School trips
I loved school trips. I went to Wales with my friends, hiking, caving, and doing all sorts of outdoor activities. It was a wonderful trip. In later years I had the chance to go on a school camping trip and a music tour across Italy.
11. The Music Department/Music School
I started at high school and it was the start of many fun years in the music department. We would all play in many ensembles and orchestras and it was a place to make many friends. I used to love playing in the string quartet. One time was for the then Lord Mayor of London’s gathering, where a guest promptly pointed out we should be using the service lift, not the guest lift – very posh! I had also already been at music school for a few years, but this was the time I felt like I really started making good friends, one of whom is one of my best friends (and an extremely talented musician) to this day.
12. Learning new things
High school was a fun time to learn many new things. Some memories include making blue ‘crystals’ in chemistry, making circuits in physics, woodwork, a lot of colouring in of maps for geography (the stereotype, in this case, was true), learning about the Tudors and Stuarts, and learning that some P.E. was ok… 🙂
13. Discovering my inner strength
Experiencing bullying since a young age was difficult, but it also gave me a chance to realise that I had an inner strength that served me well, no matter how heated things got. A perseverance to be better and do better, regardless of what life threw at me.
14. Trying hard
Trying hard to be good at everything I set my mind to is something I am grateful for. By pushing hard, I learnt that I can achieve my goals through hard work and didn’t necessarily need raw talent.
15. Exploring boundaries
As a teenager, it’s a time where you’re deciding who you are and what you stand for (although I since know how this can naturally change over time). Whilst I was never experimental in many things that most teenagers were, this is the time that I did start testing out how what crowd I fit in with, expanded my music tastes, went out whenever I was invited, went along with the crowd to find out what others interests were and if I was interested in these topics or hobbies too. It was a great time to find things that I enjoyed.
I had many a good laugh around this time of my life. A good mix of friends and that stage where ‘being an adult’ hadn’t quite kicked in so no one has any filter of behaving in ridiculous ways and having a good laugh about it.
17. Free periods
Between all the humdrum of A-Levels were the free periods. These were 40-80 minutes worth of doing whatever we liked. Studying, going to the park to laze around, sitting by the school pond and doing a mix of studying and lazing, practising music, and chatting with friends.
Moving away from home was scary and yet the best thing I could have done for myself in terms of broadening my sense of the world. I moved into university halls and made friends for life. One of my best friends also made me inadvertently aware of how defensive I had become during my years at high school and that there were kind people who would go above and beyond to be a brilliant friend (and throw you big surprise birthday parties 🙂 ).
19. My memory
I have never properly respected or been thankful for being able to retain information. This sounds like an odd thing to be thankful for at 19, but with exams beginning to count towards my degree, I became very thankful for being able to remember things and currently wish my mind was as sharp as it was then. Incidentally, some of my tricks were and still are: pretending to teach the topic to an invisible audience, making up rhymes about the subject, turning the rhyme into a song to make it stick, drawing pictures next to notes, handwriting rather than typing notes. The song particularly works well for musical minds. My dad made up a song for my recital of a chinese text when I was 10 years old or younger. I can still recite part of that text even though I have no idea what it means!
20. Starting to actively practice self-care
This one was a big one for me. Up until this age I was always trying to be liked by everybody and help anybody that needed help. The problem was I burnt myself out, ignored my own needs and ended up in a very sorry state, second guessing myself and who I was. I then began to practise mindfulness and meditation, a practice I still engage in to this very day. It has changed my life and my relationship with myself so much for the better.
21. Moving to China
I will always be thankful for the most disastrous and yet most fun months that I lived in China. Moving to a country where you don’t speak the language and don’t know anyone is pretty scary but presents so much opportunity. I met some amazing people, learnt a lot (more about life and myself rather than the language) and strengthened my belief in myself to have achieved such a feat.
22. Getting a job
Contributing to the workforce and making a start in what has now become a strong career path.
They are just so comfy! Grouped with having lunch whilst speaking to one of your best friends is a great way to relax. I have many happy memories chatting about life and comparing notes on books whilst sitting on beanbags.
24. Living alone
I was lucky to have had a chance to live alone. For an introvert, this was probably the most indulgent 4 years of my life. I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Pyjama days turned into weekends. Binge watching the latest series went to new levels. Having some moments of eating tubes of biscuits went by with zero guilt. Lengthy phone calls without anyone asking me to get off the line were had. I went out for long walks to wherever my legs decided to take me, discovering routes to all sorts of tucked away gems. I had a party whenever I wanted and got to see friends frequently.
Yes, I am thankful for problems I faced because they made me realise what I didn’t want in my life and also brought back into focus what the important things in life are.
26. Setting boundaries
From trying to find what boundaries were to overburning myself, I finally found a point in my life when I was comfortable in saying no and began putting in place healthy boundaries.
27. Finding love
I gave it ‘one last shot’. I wasn’t all that upset being single as it was what I was mainly used to. But I took a punt and found a great partner.
28. Stopping being a perfectionist
I had always been a perfectionist and found it very hard to not press and persevere with things until it ran me raw. Around the age of 28, I learnt that some things weren’t worth perfecting and also that perfection is perception and in essence doesn’t exist. I saw my health drastically improve after letting go of perfectionism.
29. Moving away from the city and getting a cat
Farewell pollution and hello trees, fields, peace and quiet, beautiful country walks, country pubs, farm shops, riders with their horses trotting down the street, morning greetings with fellow villagers, and my own back garden. And joining all that, a very fluffy British Blue Shorthair cat, who is incredibly cute but naughty.
30. Feeling happy
I won’t write too much on this point except to say that is how this whole blog started, with me aiming to complete 100 things to make me happy last year. It really worked and helped further broaden my horizons to new things.
I’m thankful for my life. I have had so much good in it. There have been plenty of rotten times too, but I have learnt from all of these events and become a stronger, more resilient person. I feel it important to reflect on each birthday and to think back from the start, because it is a reminder of how many colours there can be in life, where we are and all that has brought us to this point. If we focus on the good that has been present in our lives, we also set ourselves ready to spot more good that we can be thankful for.