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It's All in How You Look At It

Or the alternate title: A Tale of Two Kitchens

Several years ago when my kids were in preschool, one of the moms there was having her kitchen redone. She talked about it for months and we were all very excited to see the finished product. The kids and I went over shortly after it was completed and honestly, my mouth fell open when I saw it.

It was, and still is, one of the most magnificent rooms I have ever seen. They added on an entire two-story section to the entire house and this kitchen/great room combination could have easily been in Architectural Digest or any other home improvement magazine. It had every manner of kitchen contrivance you could imagine and the living area had an enormous sectional couch and a gorgeous giant arrangement of windows on the far wall.

(I should mention that at this time the kitchen in my house was so small that I could almost stretch both of my arms out and touch the walls. I had about three feet total counter space and the oven couldn’t fit a turkey.)

I walked around in awe as the mom pointed out the hand cut marble countertops, the specially mixed paint colors for the walls and cabinets, and the custom made drawer pulls that had taken 3 months to arrive. I have to admit, I was feeling overwhelmingly jealous at the largesse, and telling myself that if I ever had a bigger kitchen I would definitely employ something as wonderful and magical as “The Tupperware Drawer.”

After a few minutes though, my envy faded as I listened to her explaining things. Or more accurately, complaining about things. With every special thing she pointed out, she mentioned the problem with it. As in, “Here is the top of the line, extra-quiet, multiple compartment dishwasher…but I’m so upset because I wish I had had the contractor put it over there instead of over here.” And, “Here is the brushed nickel, latest innovation faucet” (one of two I might add) “but I really should have gotten the one with the no-hands touch feature instead of this one.” And she went on and on and on. Never mind that you could have landed a small plane in this room, which also boasted a huge island, a shiny flat-top cookstove, a trash compactor, and something called “toe lighting,” she only saw what was wrong with it.

I couldn’t understand it. I realize now that she is one of those people for whom nothing is ever good enough, but from my perspective, I would have been overjoyed with even one of the special and amazing things that her exquisite brand new kitchen now held. But it’s all in how you look at it.

A few months after that visit I decided to redo my own kitchen. Now we were unable to break through the back wall of the house to expand it, and we were unable to make any structural changes to the space, but I was able to put another small countertop in and paint the walls. During this time cherries were everywhere decor-wise and I thought of how fun it would be to have a kind of retro-kitchy-cherry-themed kitchen. I picked out a bright shade of red for the walls, paired it with bright white paint on the trim, and set about collecting all manner of cherry kitchen items. I got cherry dishtowels, canisters, a colander, some super cute wooden signs, and I even had an adorable cherry apron that I hung up for display. It was a ton of fun to put together and I absolutely loved it. My kitchen was no bigger (although I now did have a double oven courtesy of the mom above) but it made me happy every time I walked into it.

At some point after it was finished a friend of mine came by whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She walked into the kitchen, looked around bewilderedly and asked, “Um…so what’s with all the cherries?” I enthusiastically explained how while I wasn’t able to make the kitchen of my dreams, I could at least work with what I had to make it fun and lively and bright, and how much I loved it and how great it was to be in and cook in and everything….to which she folded her arms, took one more disparaging look around and said, “Huh.”

Now, as is obvious by this story, this is a person who cannot find joy in anything. She is a fundamentally unhappy person and she’s the same person whom I mentioned before who said to me, “If I HAD to have a criticism…” . But I think that her job as a friend was to support me in my choice of kitchen decor, and even if she didn’t like it or agree with it, to realize how happy it made me and offer even an iota of encouragement. Even though she was physically and mentally unable to come up to my level of enthusiasm, I would have hoped that someone whom I called a friend would at least have the good manners to offer some kind of compliment, or at the very least not actively put me down.

The point is, she had a choice in how to look at it. She chose to look at her through her lens of disdain and didn’t give one thought to how her comments might make me feel. The HGTV kitchen woman had the choice to see her beautiful new space as amazing and wonderful and something to be immensely grateful for, but she made a different choice.

This choice of how to look at things can be applied to everything in our lives, especially our happiness. A long line at the store can be looked at as a pain and a hassle, or it can be a welcome break in a busy day to slow down and people watch, or play Scrabble on our phone. An unexpected rain storm can be viewed as an annoying wrench in our day, or as a happy excuse to enjoy another cup of coffee while waiting for to pass. The DVR breaking for the third time (which just happened to us last night) is a pain no matter how you look at it, but we made the choice to play a board game and laugh the night away together instead of bemoaning the fact that our Friday night shows hadn’t recorded.

We can look at success the same way. If success means a lot of money, a huge house, and extravagant vacations, then some of us may never truly feel successful. But if success means physical and mental health, a loving family, friends we can count on, and our basic needs met, then we can spend our days feeling happy and content with the incredibly successful lives we have built for ourselves.

It’s all in how you look at it. That choice can make all the difference.

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