Lessons from a Bird’s Nest Fern

While browsing through a periodical aimed at people of a certain age, providing tips on finance, health, travel and ways to avoid falling victim to scammers, a list caught my eye. This periodical often publishes lists: 10 ways to maximize wealth, 20 ways to downsize your possessions (in preparation for the inevitable downsizing of your abode), 5 ways to prepare quinoa. This list was one that ordinarily I would have passed on—this doesn’t apply to me; I am no longer 25 years-old and drowning in self-help books to “help” me sort out my messy life.

This list suggests 10 ways to achieve happiness.

After citing studies suggesting that exercise, proper diet, social activities and a good night’s sleep improve mood—things I already do—there was one more item on the list I don’t do. A bit of advice that costs nothing, but I found it astonishingly hard.

Every evening, think of 3 things you are grateful for.

The husband accuses me of being a worrier. He’s right about that. Spooling in my head is a tape of regrets that mostly runs in the background. It’s a habit. I worry that I’m missing something important if I don’t worry. And so goes the loop.

While I was getting ready for bed, I gave it a try. Only 3 things. That should be doable, a small amount, easy as ABC. Only, I couldn’t come up with anything.

Health. That’s always a good one. So far so good; a few unavoidable deficits but nothing to prevent me from doing what I like to do . . . mostly. Then up pops the inevitable worry. How long to I have before they get worse? Is my diet sufficient to forestall deterioration, am I exercising enough?

So what else is there? Finance. Retirement income is enough each month for us to live comfortably. But wait, should I be grateful for having money? What about all the other people in our country or around the world who live in poverty? Am I doing enough to help?

Scratch that. What else? Family? That’s complicated. Friends? Yes, I am grateful for my friends, but then the spool starts up. Am I a good enough friend? Do I reach out enough to them?

Let’s go smaller, look at the tiny joys. The satisfaction of a sentence well-written. Getting a new
story idea.

My delight in a bright orange dahlia in my front yard. Savoring the taste of a home-grown potato. The hum of a late honey bee visiting the aralia.

Listening to one of dozens of favorite songs, and even singing along. Rearranging the rugs for a fresh look. Taking a nap.

Sorting through old photographs with a college in mind. Watching a vintage Robert Mitchum movie.

Everything is a trade-off. Nothing lives in a vacuum (maybe something does—I’m not up on the science). The solution for a dilemma today may not hold up tomorrow. Like all things, cataloging regrets is a habit complicating addiction, like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, gambling. It takes time for a habit to be altered, or even broken. And the older the habit, the harder it is to break.

There’s a bird’s nest fern on my desk. It likes its soil to stay damp, and likes it when I mist it. It prefers a northern light—which it gets—to direct sun. I’ve made a habit of checking the soil and misting and opening the blinds every day. This is a new habit. Sounds hopeful. I am grateful for that.




About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Lessons from a Bird’s Nest Fern — 3 Comments

  1. I think this is something that can be practiced in several ways, depending on what is out of balance in your life.

    When I was on the edge of getting overworked (I’d seen it happen to a colleague the year before, and recognised the early warning signs) I got some advise from a counsellor.

    She told me to start a diary in which at the end of each day I had to write down three things I did that day that were okay – not specifically great good things (though of course those were fine, if they happened that day), but not things that went awfully bad or didn’t get done.
    Just things I did that day; on the bad days it was okay if the only things on the list were “I got up in the morning, I washed and got dressed, and I fed the cat”. Most days there would be something more positive to mention, even if it was just taking a small walk outside, talking with a neighbor, helping someone find an answer to a question, or cooking a tasty dinner and eating it at a reasonable time.

    Doing that for a while (at least three months, maybe half a year IIRC) really helped me.
    It stopped me going to bed with all the undone and unfinished things milling around in my head, with the sense that I couldn’t achieve anything and was worthless at my job because I couldn’t measure up to the unreasonable demands put on me. It helped me to not fall off that edge into depression and overwork, and brought me back to a better balance.

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