I have a lot to be grateful for.
I am an Aussie girl currently living in Denver, Colorado -- the greatest city in the USA in my opinion. I have a wonderful relationship with a man who supports my most fantastical dreams, and we adopted a beautiful lab mix earlier this year. I just started my own business after years of longing to do so, and I have found my calling in my career. I can work from anywhere and any hours I choose, allowing me to spend time on the things I love to do -- playing the trombone, skiing, traveling and taking pictures of my adventures! I am grateful for all of this. But none of it is what I am most grateful for.
Contrast is a prerequisite for gratitude -- without darkness, how can there be light? As such, I have also experienced challenges during my life. I spent much of my childhood in hospital, a seemingly defective child that my parents were advised to "take back" more than once. I suffered from sleep apnea that kept my parents in a constant state of sleep deprivation for about eight years, and had major surgery every 18 months on average during my first ten years. Thankfully, my parents persevered with the repairs until I was fully (or at least mostly) functional.
Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if one or two of the details of my childhood were tweaked. For example, what if my parents hadn't wanted me? What if they had decided, after the third or fourth operation, that it was all too much like hard work, and had given me up to foster care? What if the expense had been too great, or they had decided not to go ahead with the final procedure, which had a low probability of success at the time? Without that operation, I would be in a wheelchair today.
What if I had chosen music instead of science as a career path? I probably wouldn't have met the amazing man that I married, wouldn't have moved to Denver and wouldn't have adopted this beautiful dog. Life would be different -- better or worse, who can say? But different.
This practice of imagining alternative storylines is known as counterfactual thinking, and it can be used in constructive or destructive ways to adjust our perception of events. Constructive counterfactual thinking (i.e. considering the relative benefits of what actually happened, compared to possible alternatives) has been associated with creating feelings of meaning and purpose. In his book Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, Timothy D. Wilson explains that it has also been found to refresh our happiness and reignite the sense of mystery that we feel when something wonderful happens to us. Through writing this story, I can attest to the power of this technique!
This process made me realize the one thing I am most grateful for: being given up at birth by my biological mother.
All I know about her is that she was 18 when she gave birth to me in Sydney, Australia, and that my biological father was a British sailor. You can fill in the blanks.. I can't imagine what she must have gone through in the nine months between that fateful night and the day she said goodbye to me, but it must have been incredibly difficult.
Thanks to her courage in giving me up to an unknown family who were truly ready and excited to welcome another child into their lives, I am living the life of my dreams. So this is to say thank you, whoever you are.
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