2020: The Year of Discovering Happiness

“I recognize that 2020 will be a year that will challenge me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I’m ready to embrace it with everything I have.”

Those were my written words exactly a year ago. At the time, my mother was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, and I anticipated the road ahead would be a challenge. Little did I know that the road ahead included me losing a job that I loved, my frightful battle with COVID-19 (where some days I would end up on the floor, clinging to the carpet trying to catch my breath). I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to see my friends and family, that I wouldn’t be able to partake in the therapy services provided at the cancer center with my mom. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to hold her hand while she was injected with chemo. I cry when I think about that.

For me, 2020 wasn’t what I expected. It hasn’t been for anyone. But, somehow, it was what I needed.

I understand that sounds entitled. So many have suffered from this pandemic. Too many lives have been lost. To say this experience has been anything more than a devastation, to say it was something of a “spiritual awakening” sounds tone-deaf. I understand.

But one thing I learned during this year is the power of speaking your truth, the power of honoring your lived experience, and not allowing anyone to bully you into silence (especially in a hyper-digital age where people are exceedingly brave behind their phone screen and quick to judge).

This past year, I found happiness. Well, I should say, I finally noticed it.

Throughout my life, my construct of happiness was based on milestones. I thought “Once I graduate college, I’ll be happy.” or “Once I get a job in New York, I’ll be happy.” and “Once I have that big wedding, I will surely be happy.”

This chase, this need to validate my existence and my purpose led me down a winding road of self-doubt and comparison, leading me further away from the thing I wanted most: happiness.

As I mentioned, I had coronavirus. One day, after a couple of weeks of lying in bed, I felt the strength to get up, and walk. I took a few steps from my bedroom into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I saw a face that I didn’t recognize. My tan, sun-kissed skin was tinted with grey. My eyes looked as if they had sunken into my face, leaving dark circles.

I splashed some cool water on my eyes, patted them dry, and slowly made my way outside. I hadn’t had fresh air in two weeks. I opened the door.

Sun.

She embraced me with her warmth. Between the time I fell ill to the time I stepped outside, she had transformed the dead into the living. Green life was all around me, almost as if she were saying “Welcome back. Look, I made this for you.”

And for the first time I saw, I mean SAW, a blooming bud. On a tree I’ve seen hundreds of times. I couldn’t help but stare. I stared at it for a while. In that moment I thought, “this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

I was living alone at that time. Months later, I was able to come home to my mother and be by her side towards the end of her fight with cancer.

I am happy to say, she is a survivor, and our days have been filled with love, dancing, and long walks.

During one of these walks, mom and I went to one of our favorite spots in the forest. The same place where she took me when I was a little girl to feed the ducks. The same place I would run to in high school when I felt alone, somehow nature always kept me company. As we walked down that same path, filled with so much comfort, so many memories, I looked at my mom, she had survived cancer, I deeply inhaled the fresh air (something I struggled to do just weeks before) and I thought to myself:

This. Is. Happiness.

There are so many ideas, so many Instagrammable quotes about enjoying the little things in life or appreciating what you have. I didn’t get that until now.

When I was young, we had a neighbor from China, and he would walk every morning. If you ran into him he would shake your hand with such vigor, he was elated. “Today is BEAUTIFUL!” He’d say, and he’d kiss the sky. I get it now.

Truthfully, there are still times I find myself feeling anxious about my future, but it’s the lessons I learned this year that keep me grounded. That’s not something I could do a year ago, furthermore, all the years prior.

Not every moment is perfect and I have doubts sometimes. I’m human. But I can say this, I’m happier.

I wish you happiness today and in the new year.

xx - Michelle


When my mom was sick, it was a challenge to put a hot meal on the table. I would come home late from work after a long commute, mom was just too sick to cook. The doctor gave very specific orders of what she could and could not eat and in what conditions they needed to be cooked. Accepting a meal from just anyone or ordering takeout wasn’t really an option. Fox Valley Food for Health helped us. The organization services families going through treatment by providing them with safely prepared, nutritious meals. If you are feeling generous, and in a position to give, please consider donating to their cause here.

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