People spend their lives in pursuit of that often elusive feeling called happiness – they read self-help books, search alternative philosophies, work hard, take holidays, buy stuff.
But imagine if you could stop wishing for what you didn’t have, stop chasing what you think will make you happy and instead take stock of what you have right in front of you – all the small things, to revel in them, savour them, to be grateful for them … every day.
Australian filmmaker Hailey Bartholomew did and it turned her life around, spurning a worldwide internet phenomenon in the process.
In 2008 Hailey was a 28-year-old living in suburban Brisbane, she ran a part-time photography business, had a husband she loved and was the mother of two young girls.
She had everything to be happy for, yet she couldn’t shake an awful nagging loneliness and the sense that something was missing.
“I was feeling really down. It seems strange now to say that because I can’t think of a good reason why I should have been, but I know I felt incredibly out of sorts with life,” she says.
“It was like I knew in my head I had it good but I really wasn’t enjoying myself.”
Hailey eventually sought professional help from a Catholic nun who offered coaching and counselling.
According to her the secret to happiness was all about reflection and gratitude.
She told Hailey to reflect at the end of each day and write down something she was grateful for.
Hailey heeded her advice and decided to take a polaroid photograph each day for one year of something that made her grateful.
The images, accompanied by small handwritten inscriptions, include the bulging belly of a pregnant friend, a rose petal heart made by her husband on their bed, the left over syrup from a breakfast of pancakes, the henna painted hands of her children.
“It really surprised me how quickly I began to notice things that I otherwise would have missed,” she said.
“I remember sitting on my bed one night and realising that the little moments I was thinking through were really special and if I had not taken the time to notice them they would be lost forever.”
The effects on her sense of wellbeing were dramatic and soon she was having trouble just sticking to one photograph a day.
“Taking one photo every day for a year of something I was grateful for really re-programmed my brain.
“Seeing and celebrating the good in my life affected not only the way I felt spiritually and physically but it improved my relationships with others too.
Soon people all over the world were starting their own versions and as word spread the project went viral.
“I have had so many emails and chats with people who also find the practice of celebrating the now, the good, the special moments so, so enriching,” she said.
Hailey and her mother, filmmaker Toni Powell, are now producing a documentary on the power of gratitude, inspired by stories of those who contacted Hailey personally to tell her how the project had changed their lives.
And for those struggling with difficult times and finding it hard to appreciate the small details in life, Hailey offers this advice:
“I think if we choose to go looking for the good and what we can be grateful for, no matter what is going on we can find things …. The kindness of people around us, nature that keeps on delighting with its thousand shades of green and the learning we can do in the tricky times.”
the Experience Network