For my prayer has always been love 

What did I do to deserve this?

— Sufjan Stevens

I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

About two weeks ago, I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Australia. Why isn’t quite as important and how less so. Essentially, I was feeling trapped in my life back in the Bay Area, so I decided to use a credit I had to take a weeklong vacation to Melbourne to visit my oldest and dearest friend and her gem of a boyfriend. My goals were to clear my head, maybe run a few thoughts past my newly cleared mind, and see a kangaroo.

I can’t quite put into words how far past my expectations this trip exceeded . . . but I’ll try.

I did and saw everything, in my mind, there is to do in Melbourne. I saw my first full rainbow on the Great Ocean Road; I laid in a grove of kangaroos; I did stand-up comedy; I ate the tastiest Thai food at midnight with a new friend; I reconnected with my best friend deeper than I can even explain to myself; I gained a whole new appreciation and understanding for her boyfriend; I became as versed Australian History as American; I stayed out all night talking with new, amazing friends; I went on a date to the fanciest most beautiful bar in Melbourne in my red high top Chucks; I fell in love for a night; I held a koala.

For the past three years since graduating college, I’ve been floating around in the ambiguity of my own mind making desperate attempts at self-identification. How can I say this without sounding dramatic . . .  

I re-met myself in Melbourne (ah, nuts). I discovered who I want to be, who I’ve been, and who I am now all in the same place and time. It’s me. I’ve been looking for myself. It was the most beautiful trip I’ve ever taken.

And yet, how can I explain any of this to you?

Aye, there’s the rub. But I’m going to try because after this week I am fully convinced that’s the key: appreciation. Appreciating every single little goddamn moment in our puny little lives on this topsy-turvy rock in space.

I said I connected deeper with my best friend than I knew possible—let’s talk about that. Lili and I go way back. Like, waaaaaaaay back. Like so far fucking back we were actual children when we met and in being actual children, we embedded ourselves so deeply into each other that sometimes I am certain that we are actually the same person. I care so deeply for this person that for the past seven years I’ve lost actual sleep wondering if she knows how much I love her. When I finally told her, her response was a simple and brilliant, “I know. I love you too.” And in one simple, beautiful, perfect moment, every weight was lifted from my shoulders as if it had never been there at all. And that’s why I love Lili. Because she just knows. She just is Lili, all of the time. It is something I’ve valued and admired our whole lives, and something I’m just now learning how to do for myself: let people see me, as I am, in any given moment.

My entire life, my biggest issues with people have come as a result of my inability to express appreciation, to express myself. I hold back out of fear of rejection. It’s not worth it. Strangled appreciation comes off as insincere, and insincerity reads as untrustworthy, and untrustworthy admits you have something to hide.

I have nothing to hide. I don’t believe any of us do. Appreciation isn’t the result of saying thank you, it’s the result of sincerely meaning it, and that’s much more terrifying. In every “thank you” there’s an “I love you,” and that’s scary. Here’s why you can’t just say it, here’s why you have to mean it:

Meaning what you say makes you vulnerable. Vulnerability is the key, to all of it. Why? Because when you are vulnerable with yourself and another person you are saying I love you, and I trust you, and I am worthy of your love and trust. By maintaining this in your life, you are saying this, on a much larger scale, to the entire world. It’s a cyclical relationship. Appreciation brings out vulnerability, and vulnerability lets in more appreciation.

I’ve made some pretty steep claims. Appreciation and vulnerability are the key to life . . . and stuff. Yeah okay, sure. But if it were that easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it? Well, it’s not easy, dum dum. It’s quite hard sometimes. Appreciation, just like anything, is a practice. It requires a very strong and quiet mind and an open heart. Take this for example: just earlier on this flight I got annoyed because a little girl reclined the chair in front of me really far back to sleep and I got frustrated with the man next to me who wouldn’t stop tapping his thigh because it meant I couldn’t concentrate. After about twenty seconds, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I shut everything down, I listened to an album, I drank some tea and wine, I fell asleep watching The Big Short (Air New Zealand has EVERYTHING!). I woke up and everything was different. I stood up and I felt how wonderful it was to stretch. I saw the little sleeping girl, making a chair notoriously known for being small look huge. I ran into my thigh-tapping neighbor leaving the bathroom and realized he’s just a little nervous. And then I realized why I’ve been so miserable back home: I’m surrounded by some of the most important people and places in the world to me and I haven’t been able to appreciate them. Australia, then, was just my “drink tea and take a nap” for my life.

When you can’t appreciate your life, whatever it is, then it is your responsibility to do what you have to do to get yourself there. It can be as simple as taking a nap, or it can be as extravagant as booking a week-long trip across the world with money you don’t have. Either way, it’s fucking important. It’s important because what you’re really doing with those little acts is appreciating yourself. You do so much every day. Your body and your mind work so hard. Life is so fucking hard. Take care of yourself, appreciate yourself, then you can appreciate everything else. Every day there are a million and six reasons to be grateful. Each day that you miss the opportunity to appreciate those things is a wasted day; wasted time is just a recipe for misery.

And there she is, our main culprit: time. I don’t have time. Maybe another time. The timing isn’t right. There will never be time to appreciate yourself until you “make” time. Let me be clear: I have a job. I have a life. I have responsibilities to people and obligations. In fact, I feel confident in saying I have more of those things than the average person. I don’t have money either. I spent my entire savings on this trip and I can’t tell you how much shit I got for flying almost twenty hours across the world for a week. But you know what? I know people who have traveled the world for a year and come back damn near unchanged because the baggage they were dragging around wasn’t physical. I may have only had a week, but the difference is I made every moment of mine count. I knew I was in a bad place, and I made this my cure. I made an effort to be constantly present, and I did this by doing three things. Whenever I started to feel stressed or anxious, I would breathe, get out of my own head by opening my eyes and appreciating where I was, and repeat the phrase “allow yourself to be seen” in my head (thanks, Brene Brown).

This presence gave me the courage to do everything I wanted to do. If I felt scared, I talked anyway. If I doubted myself, I did it anyway.

Here’s the thing about time and money and space: all of these things are really big and seemingly important but in actuality it’s all smoke and mirrors. What they really are is great at tricking you into thinking they’re valid reasons for not doing the things you need to do for you. They’re excuses. And truthfully, they don’t really exist (fun fact about time, the closer you get to the sun, the faster time goes. So if you had a pair of twins and one lived near the ocean and one on a mountain, the one on the mountain would age faster than the one by the ocean. Nothing is real).

I hope this is reading. If I could give you one takeaway, it’s this: To be vulnerable is to be present, and you must be present to be appreciative, and the key to a happy life is appreciation. Boom.