A little over 100 days ago I started a personal project. It was soon after the Paris bombings and the news and my social media feed was filled with tragedy. Anger and hate seemed to be rising up within the public consciousness, and virtually emanating from my computer screen.
I strongly believe that what we focus on expands. And I felt that if we continued to focus on what divides us, we would only see an escalation of animosity. So I decided instead to concentrate my energies on love and the beauty of life. It was a small gesture.
One of my favourite mantras that I often repeat to myself, especially when I'm feeling discontent is, "I love life and life loves me" (which I have written about before). It never fails to reaffirm my connection with life and and makes me feel loved in return. So I decided to use this as my starting point.
Every day for 100 days I shared a photograph (or video) through social media with the hashtag #ilovelife. A photograph that captured an experience, a moment, a thing, an event, that brought me joy or love or wisdom or peace. Big, small, silly, serious, it didn't matter as long as it revealed the splendour of the everyday and made me grateful. I posted my first photo from Seoul where I was travelling for work at the time. And in an uncanny full-circle moment, I landed back in Seoul on Day 100.
Now that the project is complete I thought I'd share the 6 major lessons I learnt on the journey.
1. Gratitude is a choice and there is always something to be grateful for. Even when all three kids have chicken pox
The first few weeks I was inspired. Everything was new and fresh. Finding #ilovelife moments was easy. Family cuddles. That first sip of green tea in the morning. Laughing with friends over a home-cooked meal. But by Day 25 I didn't feel like posting anything at all. It was not that anything specifically bad happened that day, but I was exhausted and overwhelmed. All three kids had the chicken pox, and I was drowning in work. It's easy to be grateful and love life when things are going well. But of course, not every day is like that. Most days have their ups and downs and some days feel all down.
However, undertaking this project made me seek out the beautiful, joyful and loving moments in life. Everyday. Even when I was feeling crappy. It made me look up from the hole I was wallowing in to see those wonderful little flashes that fill up our days, but are often overlooked. And every single time I stopped to reflect on what I could be thankful for that day something always emerged. Sometimes it was a poem or a reflection, or even simply knowing that 'this too shall pass'. But there was always something. What I now see clearly is that gratitude is a practice. Gratitude is a choice. A choice we can make every day.
2. People and experiences beat stuff
When I look back on my 100 photos, I see that the vast majority are about people I love and experiences I had, rather than things. Eating a perfectly risen chocolate soufflé, going on a date with my husband, bundling up the sweet-smelling twins after their bath, putting up our first family Christmas tree, getting back on the yoga mat, writing poetry in the morning sunlight, picking fresh vegetables, enjoying a moment of solitude.
In fact, there are only 4 photos out of 100 that feature possessions or purchases: a new bike, a new computer, a case of champagne and a beautiful dress. It may seem like a tired cliché but now I have hard photographic evidence that its not about the stuff, people!
3. Death is a part of life
On Day 60 I was making pancakes for my three kids, a weekend tradition, when my father called with the news that my grandmother had passed away the night before. Maama, as I called her, was perhaps 105 years old, but no one really knows. She was the matriarch, a formidable magnet that drew our family together. Her passing was sad. I wished I could have seen her more recently. I wished my children could have had the chance to meet her. But she lived a life of greatness.
At first I thought, 'I can't do an #ilovelife post today. My grandmother has just died!' But then I realised that she was my #ilovelife moment. To love life is not necessarily to be happy all the time. It is to embrace all of life, including death. There are times when life will be sad and painful, but to love life is to live it. To sink into every moment deeply. To feel. All of it. Not to run away, or resist, or force happiness. It is to be where you are with acceptance. And when you do that, a background of peace encircles everything.
So I was sad that day, but I was ok with being sad. There was space around my sadness. I was grateful that I knew my grandmother, that she loved me and I loved her. I was grateful for all that she taught me. And living with an understanding that death is a part of life only makes me love life more.
4. If you love life, it loves you right back
I already knew this to be true. But this experience confirmed that what we focus on expands. It was like a magical self-fulfilling prophecy. As I paused to take in the nectar of life, like bees pollenating flowers, the sweetness of life multiplied. I felt like my brain had been rewired to see #ilovelife moments everywhere. And perhaps it had. Apparently the practice of gratitude has been found to change our gene expression, create new brain cells and new pathways and brain patterns.
One profound example of how when you love life it loves you right back came exactly half way through my journey. It was just after Christmas and the beginning of 2016. I wrote a poem about my love affair with solitude, and shared that I was feeling in need of some quiet time after and intense year. Almost immediately came the opportunity to join some wonderful friends in a beautiful house in Queenstown, New Zealand for a couple of days. And to top it off, this gift of beauty, nature, uninterrupted sleep and writing in solitude came perfectly wrapped in the most spectacular scarlet and auburn sunset I have ever seen.
5. Everything is better when you share it
At first sharing photos about my life on social media was really scary. I was totally new to Instagram and am a bit of an introvert (see my previous post - emojionally awkward). But forcing myself to do it day after day made me realise that sharing brings connection. It is not about getting 'likes', but by opening myself up and being wiling to share ideas with others I have grown more comfortable being in, and speaking, my truth. And in return I have been shown so much love by so many people.
6. My life is friggin' awesome
Looking back on this #ilovelife photo essay fills me, to the point of bursting, with gratitude for the richness of my life. For this reason alone, I highly recommend doing something like this. It doesn't have to be through photography, or even using social media. Use whatever creative medium that you connect with. But I can tell you that to have a practice of daily gratitude, and your own personal documentary of joy to look back on whenever you need to is, well, pretty friggin' awesome.
You can see all my photos at Instagram/emmafulu