On Being Thankful and Being Present

by Brenna Holeman

View of Big Ben

It has become a bit of a tradition to post on this blog every Canadian Thanksgiving. I did it in 2010, when I lived in Japan; in 2011, when I was on a road trip across North America; in 2012, when I was in Peru; in 2013, when I had just moved to London and was thinking of all the amazing people in my life; and last year, when I wrote about the importance of being thankful, no matter if there’s a holiday telling us to do so.

And really, if you go back and read any of those posts, they’re usually saying the same thing: I’m thankful for many, many things in my life, but I’m mostly grateful for the people in it (you included). I’ve been incredibly blessed to share the past thirty-one years of my life with an incredible group of family, friends, coworkers, peers, and this amazing community of travellers.

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving. Although I had spoken to some of my family members on Sunday (when a lot of people eat the traditional turkey dinner), on Monday morning I completely forgot that it was actually Thanksgiving until about 11 a.m. Weirdly enough, I looked down to see that I was wearing a red flannel shirt and eating maple syrup infused oatmeal, so you know what they say… you can take the girl out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the girl.

So this year, I will say that I’m thankful for the things I normally list: my friends and family, my health, the health of those I love, my job, my flat, this blog and all of the amazing people who read it, and so on. But this year, I’m thankful for something else, too: for being present.

London Eye

My mum has been saying this to me for years: be present. I’ve also thought that to be present is a key quality I want and need from the other important people in my life, whether they’re friends or romantic partners. So what do I mean by being present? I mean to be fully engaged and aware, to take in what’s going on around you, and to appreciate the life you’re living. To really listen when someone’s talking to you. To take some time to look around you when you walk somewhere. To actively seek new and fun experiences, even in your hometown. I’ve felt it a lot when I’ve travelled, but it’s not as easy to do when you’re living in the same city for a while, or living a more repetitive life.

For nearly two years in London, my daily schedule looked something like this: wake up, work, go for a walk, write, go to class or a meeting, go to the pub. That’s not a bad schedule to have, not at all… but occasionally, along the way, I forgot that this was actually the life I had always wanted to create, one filled with creative fulfilment, great friends, and a place to call home (interspersed with lots of travelling, of course). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I resented any of it or even took it for granted, it’s just that I was so busy and had so many things on my mind that sometimes I felt like I was just going through the motions. Although I’m appreciative every single day, I often felt appreciative of the big things in my life: the friends, the job, the degree, the flat, and so on. For a few months there, I feared I was forgetting to be appreciative of the little things, too: the way a friend laughs, the response that someone was happy with an article I wrote, the feeling of finding a perfect word for a sentence, the way the sun comes into my flat in the morning.

London Shard

This all came to a head when I went through a bit of a creative slump in the spring. As soon as I realised what was happening, I made it a point to be more present than ever. The summer into autumn, and especially the last two months, have been some of my favourite times in London ever – that’s saying a lot, considering how much I’ve talked about loving the city in the past. And here’s the thing: the city itself didn’t change. I was the one who changed, who decided to embrace this place and this life with the same passion and vitality that I did when I first moved here, or with the same passion and vitality that I have when I travel. As soon as I did that, the city opened itself up to me again, and I became happier and more motivated. Others must have subconsciously noticed the shift, too, because all of a sudden I got more invitations and more opportunities. Smile, and the whole world smiles with you, or something like that.

In the end, my mum was right (damn it, she always is). Being present – actually taking time to stop and smell the roses, essentially – is one of the most rewarding things to be, because it means that life isn’t going to pass you by. You’re going to live it as fully as you can, and enjoy every moment that you can. It seems like the most natural thing to do when you travel, due to all of the new experiences… but I think it’s especially important to remember to be present when you’re not travelling, when it’s easier to lose a sense of the small joys in life.

So this year, on this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for all of the extraordinary people and things in my life, but I’m also thankful for the mindset to appreciate them.

Brenna in Margate

What do you think about being present? Would you say that you are a “present” person?

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Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine October 13, 2015 - 2:34 pm

This post is much needed. I’ve been hearing “be present” more and more these days, and somehow I am getting worse and worse at it. I am constantly looking to when I finish school, or the weekend, etc etc. It makes you turn against wherever you are and whoever you are with! It’s terrible. It’s something I’ve been working on! So kudos to you (and your mom!) for helping me along. 🙂

Brenna Holeman October 13, 2015 - 2:39 pm

Aw, that’s really great to hear, I’m glad that the post could help! Thank you so much for letting me know, Amanda. 🙂

Andrea Anastasiou October 13, 2015 - 2:42 pm

Brilliant post, Brenna. I am also always advocating the importance of being fully present. I’m not perfect; I go through periods when my life is so stressful and hectic that I totally forget how important it is – which is ironic considering that that’s when I SHOULD really be present.

I broke up with my partner of three years a few months back. It was a terrible, terrible breakup – something that I never imagined I’d go through with him. And for the last month or so, I’ve focused on living in the now more than ever before, and it’s really helped me to a) move on and b) appreciate all the wonderful things that I have in my life.

Thanks for the post. It’s nice to remind myself to be thankful for being ‘present,’ too.

Brenna Holeman October 13, 2015 - 2:55 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Andrea. I’m so sorry that you went through such a difficult time, but I’m really glad to hear that things are turning around for you. It sounds like you are totally on the right track!

Thanks again and best of luck. 🙂

Rika | Cubicle Throwdown October 13, 2015 - 4:04 pm

Happy Thanksgiving from one prairie gal to another. I celebrated by having turkey dinner on the beach yesterday!

This post was just what I needed to read today. It’s slow season here and I’ve been out of work for two months. I’ve been focusing on the financial stress instead of taking advantage of finally having a ton of free time (our work week here is 6 days a week, 10 hours a day so free time is at a premium!) and purposefully enjoying the moment. So today I’m thankful that you wrote this 🙂

Brenna Holeman October 13, 2015 - 4:12 pm

Aw, thank you very much Rika, and Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! Yes, sometimes I forget to appreciate my free time, too, and it really is at a premium. Go have a beer on the beach with a great book for me. 🙂

Ellie Quinn October 13, 2015 - 5:18 pm

This is such a beautiful post!
I certainly try to be present although I tend to think about the future a lot.
I would say I’m good at appreciating things, I appreciate the littlest of things so I guess that counts as being present and enjoying the moment.

And aren’t mums always right?? Ha

Brenna Holeman October 13, 2015 - 5:22 pm

Yes, I tend to think about the future a lot, too! Sometimes I just have to stop and appreciate the “right now”. Thanks for your comment, Ellie!

LC October 13, 2015 - 7:16 pm

My Mum is always saying the same thing! I guess they do know best after all.

Brenna Holeman October 13, 2015 - 8:22 pm

Ha ha – they really do!

Maria October 13, 2015 - 7:51 pm

Another beautifully written post, Brenna! Personally, I try to be present and thankful for the little things in life but I also complain sometimes. Maybe we should just slow down more often and focus on the beauty that surrounds us each and every day. Maybe we should appreciate everything that we have and realize that there is always, always, always something to be thankful for. So today, I’m thankful for your post, for my friends and family, for my good health, for laughter, for rainy days, for books, for having an incurable case of wanderlust, for the fact that the world isn’t such a bad place if we find the beauty in it and wake up with a grateful heart every day… Thanks again, Brenna, for being such an inspiring person and allowing us to smile and cry and learn through your blog!

Brenna Holeman October 13, 2015 - 8:23 pm

Aw, thank you so much Maria, this comment really means a lot to me. I agree that I am learning how to slow down… perhaps that comes with getting a bit older? I’m not sure. Today I’m thankful for your nice words, you really put a smile on my face!

Jennifer October 13, 2015 - 10:02 pm

This was touching, and so wonderful to read! I have spent the last year purposefully participating in my life. I keep telling myself “What would Leslie Knope do?” (even when I feel like a Ron) and I find myself baking a cake for my neighbor, just because it’s Thursday. I have started to cut out the negative things in my life and add more positive influences (like this blog) and I can feel it working. Honestly, it makes me feel better. You’re on to something with this being present thing!

Brenna Holeman October 13, 2015 - 10:40 pm

Yes!! Leslie Knope!! That is such a good motto to have, ha ha. I am also trying to embrace and appreciate those little things (including baking) because they truly do lead to a more fulfilled life.

Thank you so much for your comment, Jennifer, I’m really glad that you feel like this blog is a positive influence! That makes me so happy.

Paige October 14, 2015 - 3:21 am

This is just the post I needed to read today! I am definitely working toward being present, but it’s hard with life changes–finishing grad school, not knowing whether my current job will turn into something full time. But I’m trying to appreciate the little things I love about my adopted home in New England–how beautiful it is in the fall, and how sometimes I’ll unexpectedly be able to smell the ocean on the air. This spring I made some cross country trips and felt so completely present for those adventures in other cities. It’s something I would love to be able to translate to my daily life too. Such a lovely post Brenna!

Brenna Holeman October 15, 2015 - 12:56 am

Thank you so much Paige – I’m so glad that the post resonated with you! It is definitely hard to stay in the moment when you’re dealing with big life changes, which is why I think I struggled with it when I was deep into my master’s degree (and work, and blogging, and so on). I’m totally with you that the smell of the ocean in the air is one of the greatest things on earth. 🙂

Jesse Horne October 14, 2015 - 10:23 pm

I have to ask – where is that beautiful dress from? I love it!

Brenna Holeman October 15, 2015 - 12:55 am

The one in the last photo? It’s from H&M… and it’s new, so you should be able to find it! 🙂

Audrey October 19, 2015 - 1:22 pm

Thank you for this great post. You’re insightful as always. It is certainly hard to be present, especially when you’re caught up in the daily mush. I live in Paris, a city most consider to be one of the most beautiful and romantic in the world, and I find myself thinking only negatively about it. I realize I’m doing this and I always feel guilty. Next time it happens I’ll try to think of your post.

Brenna Holeman October 20, 2015 - 11:51 am

Thank you so much, Audrey! I am glad that you could relate… hopefully it helps in the future. 🙂

Audrey October 19, 2015 - 1:25 pm

I feel the same way living in Paris, one of the world’s most beautiful and romantic cities. I will try to think of your most the next time I find myself ignoring this beautiful place.

De'Jav Speller October 20, 2015 - 2:05 am

Great post about what most of us find hard to do. Being present is definitely one of the most important aspects that the majority need to work on. Especially when we get tied up in day to day lives.

Brenna Holeman October 20, 2015 - 11:50 am

Thank you very much for your comment, De’Jav!

Marcela Donatello October 20, 2015 - 3:07 pm

Awesome post, Brenna! I on that path of trying to break from all the distraction, anxiety and worry habit! It’s not easy but I hope it will be as rewarding as you say it was to you! I’m new to London and I already feel like I’m caught in everyday life, forgetting to enjoy the small things! Thank you for reminding me! 🙂
All the best!

Brenna Holeman October 20, 2015 - 3:14 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Marcela! Wishing you all the best on your new adventures in London 🙂

Zalie October 22, 2015 - 3:53 am

Bren, thank you for sharing these words of wisdom with us! I agree with you that it is far too easy to lose perspective on things in our lives and we all should take the time to be present! Oh and yes, mom is always right!!

Brenna Holeman October 22, 2015 - 6:30 pm

Yes, I think it’s really easy (too easy, sometimes). And YES… mum is always right!!! xo

Jonathan October 27, 2015 - 7:16 am

nice, simple msg, always a pleasure seeing your articles come up in my reader.

Brenna Holeman October 27, 2015 - 4:19 pm

Thank you so much, Jonathan, I really appreciate that!


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