Thomas Wictor

Gratitude illustrated

Gratitude illustrated

I talk a lot about gratitude being the key to how I achieved permanent happiness. What I mean is being grateful for even the smallest dollop of decency, beauty, kindness, love, friendship, fortune, accolade, and any other positivity I’ve left out.

In 2000 I drove across the country to meet a young woman with whom I was deeply in love. I surprised her at her place of work, and she burst into tears, laughed, and hugged me so hard that it felt as though she were about to break my back.

“I’m so glad you’re here!” she kept saying, laughing and weeping.

She didn’t get off work for another hour and a half, so I went next door to a Wal-Mart and killed time. That was the happiest I’d been in seven years. It was ninety minutes of perfect contentment. I’d discovered heaven on earth.

Three weeks later I tried to commit suicide.

What I used to do was depend on one or two people or things for my happiness, and when I lost the external source of my well-being, I went to pieces. Now, my happiness comes from within, and what sustains it are thousands or even millions of beneficial fragments that accumulate. An act of heroism, others’ happiness, orange clouds at sunset, memories, a kind word, a stroke of good luck, an old photo, a nice sentence I write, a conversation, a movie, a song, a poem, a painting—the list is endless.

The core of my happiness is gratitude that there have been some truly wonderful aspects to my life. Yes, I’ve had far more awful experiences than great, but that’s just luck of the draw. I contributed to my own misery until 2011. Now, I make sure that I don’t create more problems for myself. And when I’m faced with problems, I try to solve them instead of drowning in self-pity.

On my trip in 2000, I went from ecstatic to suicidal because I discovered a terrible truth about my doomed love. The photo I took of her at dinner the night I surprised her is all the proof I need that I was right about what I’d deduced. That knowledge was too much, and I decided that I couldn’t continue living in a world where I was drawn again and again and again to the same poison, like a moth to a flame of pure hydrogen sulfide. The only escape, it seemed, was extinguishing myself.

Luckily, my attempt failed, and now I’m happy. I expect to be writing about a significant and hugely tragic development soon. It won’t derail me. I’ll grieve and then continue.

An illustration of what I mean by gratitude:

All my neighbors have barking dogs. They bark at the mail carriers, passing schoolkids, falling leaves, the sky, the lawn, and each other. My neighbors are insensate primitives acclimated to noise and squalor. Their barking dogs express all the pent-up hostility my neighbors feel. Hugely overweight, married to people they despise, working at jobs they hate, disappointed in their children, living on fast food, and doing nothing but watch TV, they’re overwhelmed with anger. Their dogs are vicariously screaming, “FUCK YOU!” at the world.

I’m grateful, however, that none of my neighbors own one of these.

Now you know how my system works.

Someday I’ll live where there are no barking dogs. In the meantime I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head, my financial future is secure, and I’m now able to write at the level I always wanted.

Also, I share the world with Kimbra. Thanks for the tip, Carmen.

I’ll see your Kimbra and raise you one Linsey Pollack and one Nathan Williams.

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