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How I Found Gratitude In Unexpected Places

03/26/2015 10:24 am ET | Updated May 26, 2015

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(photo credit: Hailey Bartholomew)

I am most grateful for a profound realization that happened nearly six years ago and for a wise woman who kindly led me to it.

I was going through the motions, my head and my heart unconnected. I was wishing my children would hurry and grow up, wishing my husband was more romantic, wishing we owned a house, wishing I had studied and had a better career, wishing I was traveling, wishing I was free, wishing I could escape my own mind. Everywhere I looked was nothing how I wanted it. I felt frustrated and depressed. I wanted this so-called "life" to stop dragging me around.

So I went looking for help, and the universe met me.

I found a nun who did counseling and one night I told her all the worries and the thoughts I couldn't carry in my head anymore. She smiled and paused. The ceiling fan spun slowly -- its blades etching that moment in my mind. I waited. In the silence I absorbed the room around me. It's full of mismatched furniture and musty smells. My legs were sticking to the vinyl chair. Beside me was a leaflet warning of the dwindling numbers of nuns. The room was too big for the amount of furniture it contained, and as she begun to talk her words had a slight echo.

"Hailey.. the secret to happiness is reflection and gratitude. Take time every day to think through your day and write down anything you are truly grateful for."

I left amused, and a tiny bit disappointed. Surely, it couldn't be that simple!

When I arrived home I took out my notepad while sitting on my bed, and I thought carefully about my day. I felt a bit lost and didn't write down anything. I realized there's a big difference between feeling like you should be grateful for something, and actually being grateful for it. I made a commitment to writing down only genuine feelings of gratitude. This process of thinking, reflecting and looking for the good sparked something within me.

I abandoned my notepad and took to carrying an old Polaroid camera. I decided I was going to push this a bit further and commit to a whole year of looking for good things in my life. Every single day I took a photo of something I am grateful for.

In this project, I found my husband loves me in many ways I had been missing. I found him singing our children to sleep at night. I found him holding my hand in the car. I found him giving me the biggest piece of pie even though I wasn't looking. I found him bringing me ice cream on hot days. I found that my view had been obscured by my headspace. When I went looking I saw something far more beautiful than the ideal I had in my head.

I found that when my thoughts got dark -- thinking "You are not good enough" -- or that I was failing, I could take this practice and find within me something beautiful to hold onto. I found that there are more good things about me than bad..

I found that when life didn't go quite right and I just couldn't fix things that if I leaned into gratitude I could find something beautiful even in the mess, the pain and the awkwardness. I found I could at the very least learn something amazing!

I found that parenting was awe-inspiring. Instead of wishing this time away, I was floored by the honor of traveling with these sweet souls. My heart was full.

I saw that what I had was enough. I was freed from endlessly chasing and learnt instead to hold delightedly to the moments right in front of me.

This is the moment and the discovery I am most grateful for. This gift a nun gave me. This idea of capturing grateful moments for a whole year -- the moment where I swore to look and find. And I did.

This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Gratitude, entitled 'The One Thing I'm Most Thankful For.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here To contribute, submit your 500 - 800 word blogpost to gratitude@huffingtonpost.com.