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How Gratitude Helped Me Find My Courage

05/08/2015 08:29 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2016
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"Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough."
-- Charles Dudley Warner

Many years ago, I read online of a woman who sold a lifetime of possessions and moved from the west coast of America to Hawaii with one suitcase. Apparently she had never regretted that decision to simplify her life, and she'd never been happier. I remember wondering a lot about that story. I was younger than her and still caught up in the acquisition of stuff that defined me -- crucial things like wicker sofas and solid timber blanket boxes. I just couldn't imagine how she could be happy without her things. What was it like waking every morning to a near empty room, I wondered. Did she feel naked in her new life? I even recall wondering how people could possibly know who she was if they weren't able to see the coat of many possessions that she wore.

Years after reading that article I found myself at a crossroads in life. Suffice to say that one door was closing and another opening, and in the course of all that I had to sell not only my wicker sofa but all my possessions, aside from what I could fit into two suitcases. I was very uneasy about losing things that I had previously decided were as crucial to my existence as the air I breathe. Even though I knew this was the right thing to do at that time I still felt a bit worried about who I would be without all my stuff. Then I remembered that woman who had found happiness in Hawaii after radically downsizing her possessions. How hard could this be? At that moment I decided to follow her lead and shift out of hand-wringing and into gratitude. I told myself that parting with all my stuff was not to be a time of deprivation but of adventure and self-discovery. All I had to do, I decided, was to go for it and wait for the blessings to show up!

And so I did just that. I let everything go, aside from what I could squeeze into two suitcases. And then, for reasons too complicated to explain here, I spent some months living in a room that was empty aside from a mattress on the floor.

The curious thing about this albeit rather extreme exercise in simple living was that the sky didn't fall on me. I woke each morning to find that, yes, the sun had in fact risen as usual. My morning coffee, brewed in the small pot I'd squeezed into my suitcase and stirred with my one teaspoon, still tasted delicious. People still smiled at me in the street. No one who visited me said, "Helen, you don't have much stuff and therefore you don't have much worth." Life went on as usual. Better than usual, in fact! I very quickly began to notice I felt lighter and more free than I had in a long time. And, astonishingly, I felt at peace. And joyful. As if my spirit was alive again, just like it had been when I was a young woman and had little or no worldly goods to weigh me down. In the absence of anything else in my room, I began to notice the quality of light and shadow, and the subtle and exquisite variations in each hour of the day. And in the early morning, the sounds of nature that might once have been drowned out by all sorts of distractions in my room now reached my ears as symphony.

As time went on I began to see how I had been struggling under the weight of my stuff. I had bought into the illusion that 'more' equates with self-worth and happiness. I had lost touch with the true source of my joy and inner peace -- my spirit. And more than that -- I realized I had also lost touch with the spirit of my stuff. Over time I came to see the benefit of simple living. I discovered that the less stuff I have, the more vivid and satisfying is my relationship with the things I do have. Having one teaspoon and not dozens left me free to enjoy things about teaspoons I had never noticed or contemplated before.

All of these lessons in gratitude and simple living were years ago now. Since then I have gathered more things around me, but I still continue to to make this journey through life with "just baggage enough." Not so much because I need to but because I want to. I know that woman who went to live in Hawaii is unlikely to ever read this -- but if she does, I hope she sees how her words inspired one woman to take the journey of a lifetime and to learn that yes, she is SO much more than her stuff!

This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Gratitude, entitled 'The Moment Gratitude Changed My Perspective.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here.