We were going about our business, minding our normal routine. Then in early 2020, the world shut down. All of sudden we were stuck at home, fake-smiling through back-to-back video calls, while pretending to be full-time homeschooling parents for our quarantined children.
Yet even in the middle of a global pandemic shitshow and lack of global leadership, for most of us—you included—life was pretty darn good. We had homes, people who loved us, and enough money for groceries. And we could wear sweatpants to work, so at least we burned out comfortably.
To counterbalance the talk of being stuck inside and missing vacations, friends, and playing in the park, we started keeping track of the positive things. Each night at dinner, everyone said something they were thankful for. We kept the question simple:
What are you happy for today?
We went around the table wrote each person’s reflection on a post-it note and stuck it to the kitchen door.
After a few weeks, our door was full of colorful reminders that, despite new restrictions on where we could spend our time, there was still plenty to be happy about.
20 positive memories from 2020
After a couple months of collecting post-it notes on the kitchen door, it was time to take them down. Like most things, even the brightest splashes of color eventually disappear from awareness. So what to do with the notes?
We didn’t want to just toss them in the trash, or drop them into another box of memories to be buried in the closet. We wanted these moments of appreciation to stick around.
So we took 20 of those notes and stuck them them in a frame to hang on a wall—a small keepsake of a year that was both unusually challenging, and full of unique experiences. We put the remaining notes in an envelope stuck to the back of the frame.
Here’s a bit more on 20 of those 2020 moments.
1. For clapping everyday
When lockdown started, everyone was stuck at home except two kinds of people: those who were sick, and those working in clinics and hospitals to help the sick. To show appreciation for the doctors and other frontline medical workers, every night we went out on our balcony—at exactly 10pm for 10 minutes—and clapped.
This happened in many places around the world. In Barcelona, it started on day 2 of lockdown, and filled the evening streets for weeks without fail. It was absolutely beautiful.
2. For finally being able to leave the house and walk outside
Who would’ve thought that simply walking around the neighborhood would bring so much joy. After 46 days being stuck in our apartment, we walked out of the front door, down the sidewalk, and up the big hill behind our house to Parc Guinardo. That view over Barcelona brought a profound sense of relief.
3. For this day being alive
Wow. That was from our 7-year-old. If only we could all remember to be so grateful everyday.
4. For a perfect 40th birthday with my family
Yup, 40 years old. We’d booked a trip to Portugal for the occasion, somewhere I’ve been looking forward to for a decade. That didn’t work out. (Vueling still hasn’t reimbursed us for the never-departed flight, nor have they responded to numerous attempts to contact them. Fuck you, Vueling).
So we celebrated at home, just the four of us. And it was perfect.
The key to a happy birthday? Being fully present with people you love.
5. For our camping night sleeping on the sofa
The coronavirus lockdown days → weeks → months gave us lots of time to think about new ways to use, and improve, the space we live in. This one was easy enough: a sofa slumber party for two.
6. For making a new part of brain power in my smart watch Dx2
The covid quarantine also allowed more time to explore gadgets which, according to my kids, can boost brain power.
We’re not too quick to hop on new tech for our kids, but Christmas had delivered these little V-tech Dx2 watches, which provided some simple games and activities for smaller kids. (note: I get paid nothing to suggest products, nor do I claim these are the best options out there. Just sharing our experience.)
7. For making super awesome comics
My kids are into comics like Dog Man, Captain Underpants, and now Tom Gates. They took this inspiration and transformed it into stuck-home-on-the-weekend stories of their own. I wish I could share the actual comics they’ve been working on, but apparently they’re still classified.
8. For other people being happy
What? Another one from the 7-year-old. Clearly wiser than me much of the time.
9. For making the coolest Easter hunt
I love Easter time. Actually I love decorating Easter eggs. It’s a tradition we never skipped in my Midwest childhood.
In Barcelona, Easter egg decorating and hunting aren’t really a thing. But we always make sure there’s a pile of hard boiled eggs—along with dye, paint, stickers, markers, glue, fabric, and whatever other supplies we have lying around.
When it comes time to find the eggs, the Easter bunny creates a little scavenger hunt in our apartment. The kids discover a list of things to find—like 12 painted eggs, 6 mini chocolate bunnies, 2 Easter baskets, and a few other treats—and off they go searching shelves, picking up pillows, and checking crevices.
10. For all the hugs my boys give me during the day
Okay, maybe I posted this note as a selfish ploy to get even more hugs from my kids. It worked 🤗
11. For having video calls and building legos with cousins
We’re in lockdown in Barcelona. The kids’ same-aged cousins are locked-down in Ireland. Everyone loves to play legos. 💡ding, ding💡 Let’s play legos together through Skype!
12. For having thoughtful friends who sent fruits & veggies and meals
The doorbell rang. A big box of fresh fruit and vegetables appeared. The next day an entire meal arrived. A friend was thinking about us trapped in our small apartment with two kids. Thank you, friend.
13. For cooking with my boys and having their help
After being locked in the house for so long, the kids were up for any new activity. So we introduced them to a new sport: cooking!
I can’t say that having kids in the kitchen makes cooking easier. But they did help, and they were eager to come back for more.
14. I’m happy for eating yummy ice cream
There’s the 7-year-old again, thinking a little more like a normal 7-year-old.
15. For a 43-person family Zoom call to welcome John home
My uncle caught covid in the summer, a bad case. After 14 days in the ICU, they finally took him off his ventilator. When we was finally wheeled out of his room, the hospital staff was outside of his door clapping. Apparently he was the first person in that hospital to go on the ventilator and come off alive.
He’s also one of seven siblings, all with kids and many with grandkids—it makes for a big family. 43 people were on that first Zoom call to welcome him home. A touching display of staying connected despite big distances.
Another family member wrote an incredibly moving story weaving together my uncle’s life with Mark Twain’s parable of social distancing here.
16. For our new cousin Cordy! (and meeting her on a video call)
My sister had her first baby March 23, the day of my wife’s birthday, during the first week of an international lockdown. She had an on-call Uber driver take her to the understaffed and pandemic-panicked hospital. She also tested positive for covid in the delivery room. I can’t imagine the stress.
Mom, dad, and baby are all healthy and happy. Sadly, we still haven’t met the baby in person, but fortunately today’s world allows photo sharing and video calls from a pocket device.
17. For our plants growing super a lot
Another new activity we tried during lockdown: growing a garden on our balcony. We started with basil, mint, and flowers. And they grew!
And we munched their leaves. And they died. So we tired again. And they died again. We decided gardening wasn’t our thing. But we keep trying.
We also made a little school science experiment out of it. The kids kept little notebooks where they counted the sprouts and measured the plant heights and leaf lengths.
18. For the Amazon workers delivering in rain, shine, and virus times
I hate pointing toward the ridiculous new wealth acquired by the richest this past year. But what would we have one without being able to push a few buttons and get anything we could dream of dropped on our doorstep?
That takes impressive warehouses coordinated through logistic wizardry. And it takes thousands of people risking themselves to deliver that new home gym and much needed vibrating massage chair that you obviously couldn’t live without.
19. For loving me even though I have to work these days
Parental pandemic stress has been widely reported. But unless you are a parent trying to work from home (or without work), while also being a full-time teacher’s assistant, and three-meal-a-day cook for four people, it’s hard to grasp just how hard this has been.
Possibly worse than the workload itself is being aware that you just can’t do it all, certainly not as well as you’d like to. That feeling of knowing your kids are right there next to you, maybe even asking you questions, but you don’t even realize because you’re so wrapped up in the work that you’re behind on.
We get it moms (and dads too—but admit it, moms are the real champions here), and yes, we love you.
20. For rearranging the furniture to get a new view
In the 15 years we’ve been living in this same apartment, we’ve replaced the sofa, rug, and dining room table. And the new versions went right into the same spot where the old ones left. We’ve changed the furniture, but we’ve never rearranged it.
Given the shape of the small room, we pretty much thought our living room arrangement was fixed. But being stuck at home for so long made us realize otherwise. Or more likely it forced us into a desperate craving for some kind of change. And when you start to think different, anything’s possible.
Taking moments of appreciation into the future
A selection of 20 notes—20 thankful thoughts from 2020—now hang on the wall.
Recently, a year after the lockdown began, we took the 40-some notes from the envelop behind the picture and stuck them back up on the door. Not just reminders of the past, but a reminder to look around and notice the many positive things constantly staring us in the face.
How often do you stop, look around, and appreciate the positive things in your life?