Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go

I’ve been back from Asia for a month now, living at my parent’s house in Michigan.

I am by far the happiest I’ve ever been at home. Readjusting last time after a long spell abroad was more difficult- I felt listless, bored and irritated with the return of bad habits like snacking and scrolling through Facebook on my phone.

But this year is different. I’m even enjoying winter this year despite the polar vortex‘s best efforts.

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This stems from something I learned while studying yoga in Bali- in order to survive a grueling, ninety-minute yoga session, it’s best to be present.

Don’t focus on the clock; suffer through discomfort to achieve your personal best. Don’t compare yourself to others; strive to be present, just you, on your mat.

This mindful little mantra of “staying present” not only applies well to yoga, but also to life in general.

I remember reading about Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea of happiness when I was 16 in her memoir Eat Pray Love. She wrote of “diligent joy”, or the idea that happiness is something you fight for every day.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort,” she wrote.

Seven years later, I’ve finally realized this is true. And in addition to striving for “diligent joy”, I also strive to practice gratitude, another lesson I learned on my yoga retreat in Bali.

Not in the mood for class?

Be grateful to be practicing yoga in Bali with some of the world’s best instructors.

Be grateful for the crickets that chirp, the soft rain that falls down on the thatched roof, for the lush greenery.

Be so, so grateful that you have been given this opportunity to be here.

And along with a great tan, I’ve tried to take that lesson of practicing gratitude home with me. Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR

Be grateful for the snow. Be grateful to be sitting fireside with a glass of pinot noir and an addictive TV show.

Be grateful for a winter walk with a friend, watching my little dog trip over snow-banks.

Be grateful for Starbucks dates with my sweet little sister.

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Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR1

And in accordance with my new year’s resolutions I’m making an effort to see my friends more. As my fellow Instagram addicts may know I spent last weekend in Chicago in a flurry of dinner parties, craft beer at the bar and catching up with friends. It was wonderful.

I’ll write about this soon, but I’ve realized my priorities have changed; I now know I need a community, a group of friends, people who I know and love and care about.

Chicago

Chicago Beer

Along with many other lessons, Asia taught me long-term nomadic life is not for me.

I guess what it all boils down to is this; I’m really happy and I’d like to stay that way.

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21 and has been traveling the world ever since. She's usually in pursuit of yoga, languages and perfectly ripe cheese and her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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51 Comments

  1. Travel teaches us the most about ourselves (IMHO) Glad to hear so many of the experiences stuck with you. However how long until the next trip is planned?
    Shaun recently posted..How I saved $22K & spent it in an hourMy Profile

    Reply
    • Yes I totally agree, travel (and particularly solo travel, if you ask me) makes you realize so much about yourself. And I’ll be announcing that later this week :)

  2. Thanks for sharing the beautiful winter pictures. I think my favorites are the tree and the bridge and the berries and flowers.

    I know you talked quite a lot about not being happy with being a full-time nomad. What about being semi-nomadic? I was happy living in Korea for two years in each location, and now my family moves every three or four years because of my husband’s job.
    Casi recently posted..A Long Road to WalkMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks! I’m having so much fun with my new lens. And I think semi-nomadic would actually be a great fit for me- I love to move around and change things, but would still have a homebase for a while. Hopefully I can find a job like that too! :)

  3. i love this. Being Present is so hard to remember, but is so vitally important! And its much better than you’ve learned what you want now, so when you take the next steps in your journey you can make sure they are they right ones!
    Ashley recently posted..A Bird’s Eye View: Seeing New York City From A HelicopterMy Profile

    Reply
    • That’s so true! And I think this time at home has given me lots of perspective on both how I feel about the past and what I want for the future.

  4. I love the message of this post, Ashley! I definitely struggle with living in the presence and appreciating all the blessings in my life, so this was a great reminder for me! :) I’m glad that traveling to Asia left you with a better understanding of yourself and happier! :)
    Melanie Fontaine recently posted..iPhone Tales: Château de VersaillesMy Profile

    Reply
    • I’m glad to hear I’m not alone! :) Thanks for the sweet comment, Melanie.

  5. Beautifully put and glad you could find inner peace! I’ve been having my own struggles, related to professional life, but know I need to have more of a focusing in the now kind of mindset and not getting upset over things I can’t change.

    And your pictures of winter life are striking. I especially love the one of the bridge and the orangeish bush.
    Julie recently posted..Book Review: Mastering the Art of French EatingMy Profile

    Reply
    • That’s so key for me too- accepting what I cannot change. There’s no use getting frustrated about things that aren’t in your power to alter!

  6. Oh my, after two and a half years away, I stayed at my parent’s house in Michigan for a few months in January, so I can really relate to your post! It took me a long time to realize that we are all truly, completely in control of our happiness (and Eat, Pray, Love did help me understand that, too!). That is exactly why I loved my last – and longest – trip with my family. Sure, it may be more fun to spend the time on a beach somewhere, but there is something humbling, healthy, and fulfilling to be home.

    For me, I spent my time taking care of things like cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping for my mother. I put the hours in – in person, face to face, and gave back to my family in a way I hadn’t when I lived there last, as I was in high school and come on, teenagers are never grateful enough. I lived a slower life, rather than being too busy for others, I was unemployed and bent my schedule around my family and their needs. And it was worth spending all the money I had saved up to be able to do that for once.

    I think its vital to commit to the moment, and your post just warmed my heart and brought back all the wonderful memories back in the mitten with my family. I’m so glad I got to read your own experiences there and be reminded of those special moments. Thank you for sharing.
    Britney McSweeney recently posted..Urban Exploring in TaiwanMy Profile

    Reply
    • That’s so great you were able to spend time at home and help out so much! Where are you from in Michigan if I may ask? I’m loving my time back in the mitten too- though I do get a bit lonely and bored sometimes because none of my high school friends live here anymore!

    • Ashley, I am from Trenton, MI, which is in the Detroit area. And I had the same issue, because its been so long that I have been away, most friends have left and the ones that are around have a life there that I haven’t been in, you know? But maybe some loneliness and time to reflect is good for growth (at least that is what I tell myself! hah)
      Britney McSweeney recently posted..Urban Exploring in TaiwanMy Profile

  7. So very beautiful and touching, and on all that “location within” important jazz! In my humble and mad-cow, (I mean mad-mackerel), induced mind, it does indeed take a globe trekking interval, to in turn reconnect us to that incredible sense of gratitude that’s found, yet right at home. BRAVO! A treat to read – as always! Cheers!
    Leah Elisheva recently posted..A “FETA” Compli?My Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks Leah! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I think I’m also much more grateful because this level of comfort is kind of crazy to me- I’m still so thrilled to have my own room and a hot shower! :)

  8. Wow – I didn’t realise just quite how snowy the US is at the moment!

    I can relate to the issues of moving home. I’ve spent the last four years either at university or abroad, and moved home a month ago for the first time in my adult life. It’s quite challenging, particularly as my family aren’t the closest, but I’m trying to find some happiness in my situation until I move out. I’m actually starting yoga classes this week, my gran used to be a yoga teacher and she is adamant that it’s incredibly useful for gaining balance and perspective in life, so here goes. I doubt it’ll be quite as wonderful as practicing in Bali though!

    I’m also trying the #100happydays tag on Instagram, it sounds a little silly, but it’s really helped me not to get too down by looking back at all the little positive things that’ve happened to me so far this year and is definitely helping me feel a greater degree of gratitude about what I have, rather than just focusing on what I want out of life.
    Georgia recently posted..My first trip of 2014: Mexico! (With £258 RTN flights)My Profile

    Reply
    • That’s great you’re starting yoga, it seriously is the only workout I’ve done that helps me both mentally and physically. And that’s a great idea! I want to start a happiness jar so I can remember to be grateful every day :)

  9. Dear Ashley,
    I loved your thoughts on being home and being in the moment, and
    loving yoga. I also thought the responses to your thoughts were very interesting and revealing from your readers . I believe that yoga is a thinking person’s exercise–of mind and body .Thanks for sharing. Love, Gamma I forgot, Papa Lou
    loved your writings and made comments on how impressed he was with your thoughts.

    Reply
    • I love that- a thinking person’s exercise. That’s so true! I think it really helps those of us who think too much and need to calm down our minds. It was wonderful seeing you the other day, thanks for the perfect lunch! Send my love to Papa too. Love, Ashley

  10. I so admire the nomads, but I certainly could not do it and I learned it super quickly. Even after a week’s vacation, I begin missing my bed and craving the comforts of home and familiar faces. Luckily, the expat life provides a nice balance. I definitely struggle with being present though. My strong will and stubbornness easily get in the way too often.
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..how to: keep your cell phone number when moving abroad.My Profile

    Reply
    • I totally know what you mean. I think for me the biggest one is familiar faces- I really like building a community and so traveling long-term just makes me feel like every relationship I make is too short-lived to mean anything. And might I suggest yoga? :)

  11. Always appreciate hearing honesty from a travel blogger—even if it means admitting long-term travel isn’t for them. I’m starting to feel the same way myself (although the longest I’ve been on the road is only 2 weeks wheeeeee), that I need a “nest” to return to after a while, but also that I feel like I need to put down roots.
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..What I Enjoyed the Most in Florence, ItalyMy Profile

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    • Yeah it’s actually something I felt guilty about for a long time- I was asking myself, why can’t I enjoy traveling long-term like everyone else? But I think it’s better to just accept who you are and what you like and go from there. And I’d love to be putting down roots in Spain, jealous! :)

  12. What a lovely post Ashley – from the heart and so so true. Honestly, it’s just what I needed to read after a day that’s left me tired, a bit frustrated and more than a bit fed up. You’ve made me happy – NOW. I’ve got my moment back – and I’m grateful. Did you know I needed to read this? :-)
    Clare recently posted..Italy and Greece: My Two Legendary LovesMy Profile

    Reply
    • That means so much to hear, Clare! That’s a reason I read blogs too- it’s so nice when you find someone else who feels the same way you do. It’s very cathartic.

  13. Thanks for this post Ashley. It’s obvious that you’ve thought hard and strong about this. Indeed, sometimes in our eagerness to reach the next best place, we forget the place that we’re currently in.
    Not wanting to follow the crowd can sometimes make people feel anxious and uncertain, but knowing what you don’t want will eventually lead you to what you do want.

    Stay proud.

    For you.
    Victoria recently posted..Fashion or Passion, Green or Mean: Berlin Fashion WeekMy Profile

    Reply
    • That’s so true, Victoria. And you’re right- I have given this a lot of thought! I definitely remember being in Paris and dreaming about Asia and then being in Asia and dreaming about Paris. Such a bad habit!

  14. I love discovering people who are brave enough to admit that they don’t want to be long term nomads. In a blogging climate where it seems that that’s the most popular label to ascribe yourself, it’s refreshing. I’d like to be a long term nomad but I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to hack it in practice. Your honesty and own personal revelations lets me know that that’s okay. I can figure it out without prejudice. Thank you.
    Lindsey recently posted..Discovering the Bay of Islands, New ZealandMy Profile

    Reply
    • I’m so glad to hear that, Lindsey. I actually want to write a blog post about it because it’s something I feel really strongly about. None of us should feel guilty for our choices and I think that the travel blogging community can be very judgmental to those who don’t want to pursue the same nomadic lifestyle.

    • Thanks, Anja! Hope you’re having a great 2014 :)

  15. I hear you. I’ve been back from Asia for about a month too, sleeping on a friend’s couch. I was worried about coming back, about falling back into old habits, but except for drinking too much coffee again, I’m doing much better than expected. it is all about gratitude, isn’t it? and about being present. I knew this for years. but it was a theoretical knowledge, something I had to tell myself over and over again. I didn’t live it or feel it, tho. this time seems to be different. let’s hope it stays like this. because that’s another yoga lesson I had to learn the hard way: you have to keep working, otherwise you end up back where you began… xo
    petra recently posted..365+ 45-51 & when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them & fall into mutually satisfying weirdness & call it loveMy Profile

    Reply
    • Haha that’s so true! I DEFINITELY have learned that yoga lesson the hard way. That’s great you haven’t fallen back into old habits (is too much coffee really even a problem? ;) ) Maybe this is all a part of growing up. Best of luck to you, Petra!

  16. I totally totally need to be more present. On Monday and Wednesday I work basically a ten hour day so that my other days are easy. I dread it all day and watch the clock wishing I was spending my time writing something or working on a project….really anything for that matter. If I could just be more patient and present I think I’d be much happier. All this moaning and groaning must stop. Like you said, you must work at happiness!
    jessica wray recently posted..All the Destinations Tempting Me to Pack Up AgainMy Profile

    Reply
    • I remember that feeling from high school. I watched the clock through every day and was so thrilled for Friday! I still do that now too- I often will be doing blogging and online work and be fooling around on Facebook, bloglovin’ etc. It’s so much easier to just sit down and do what you need to get done. Anyway I’m sure we’ll talk more about this in Madrid! And congrats on the House Hunters International gig, that’s SO cool! :)

  17. Fabulous advice, and so pleased for you that you’re having a wonderful time at home. Happiness isn’t just for during travel.

    I think I’m guilty of always trying to think a step ahead, so being more present is something I’m going to attempt to take to heart. Thanks! :-)
    Katie recently posted..New Zealand: The Bay of IslandsMy Profile

    Reply
    • That’s great to hear, Katie! I definitely think of the next step way too much and it gives me anxiety- something to work on!

    • Me too! It’s so snowy in Michigan so it makes for a great backdrop :)

    • Yeah I love when travel changes the way I live my life in general! It’s a great feeling.

  18. What a great way to live! A wonderful philosophy. Love it, and I’m grateful I just read your post!
    Corinne recently posted..Courtyard in IndiaMy Profile

    Reply
    • I’m glad to hear that Corinne! And it’s a hard-earned philosophy I hope I can stick to :)

  19. Ashley,

    Good point, I agree. After 4 months of traveling came to an end, I realized I wanted an apartment to come back to, a local bar/coffee shop to become a regular at, and so forth.

    What are your plans when you get back from Europe?

    Reply
    • I’m actually working that out currently! I have to pick a city, find a job, etc. I find this whole process much more daunting than traveling by myself in Asia!

  20. Pleased to hear you’re so happy! I felt a little like that when we came back to the UK. It’s been so ice being close to family and friends. Travelling has really made me appreciate the importance of community.
    Victoria recently posted..17 reasons to love HelsinkiMy Profile

    Reply
    • It’s so true- community’s such a big thing that’s missing when you’re traveling long-term, which is why I prefer being an expat. Glad you’re enjoying being in the UK! :)

  21. Beautifully said! Thanks for the reminder to be present. I’ve been trying to reconnect with my yoga practice this year but haven’t quite reached your level of enlightenment. Perhaps I should plan a trip to Bali! ;-)
    Heather recently posted..Snapshot: Central Park in WinterMy Profile

    Reply
    • Haha my level of enlightenment is quite low, I assure you! I still have panic attacks/temper tantrums and all that jazz. But I would highly recommend Bali if you’d like to do more yoga!

  22. “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” heh, I picked that from The Magic book by Rhonda Byrne. I’ve been reading it diligently and practicing my “magic” in form of gratitude and I’ve been seeing improvements in my life. So it’s true, the more we practice and express gratitude, the more we actually receive.

    May you always find joy to be thankful for all the little things, the travels and beautiful people you meet on the roads.

    Cheers!

    Reply
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