“Sonstrale” is an exercise in positive thinking that came to me some years ago. It all started with birds chirping. Just hear me out, okay? I was out with a friend and made a comment about the sound of birds chirping nearby. A little while later we came across a rose bush alongside one of Amsterdam’s canal houses. “Look at this rose! Come smell it, this is incredible.”

He started to laugh at me and asked me “how do you do that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“How do you get excited about roses? And birds chirping. Do you realize that earlier you commented on how lovely the birds sound? How do you do that?”

To be honest, I hadn’t realized. I had no idea.

We laughed it off and went on with our day, but the conversation stuck with me. What was up with the birds and the roses, anyway?

A while later – how long, I can’t be sure – I got back to him with an answer.

“I’ve figured it out! Remember last year?” He nodded somberly. The year before had been a dark one for me. A culmination of things had ultimately led to a bout of depression and seeking the therapy needed to get out of it.

“Well, when I was in it, I realized one day that I wasn’t really seeing colors anymore. I know that sounds unreal, and I don’t mean that the world was literally in grayscale, but the world felt like it was in grayscale, you know? I wasn’t seeing colors anymore. And it was scary at first, but the longer I was in that place, the more I got used to it. I got used to not seeing colors. Can you imagine that? Me?

When things got better, I remember walking along one day and seeing some flowers. But, like: I actually saw the flowers. I saw their color so well. It kind of felt like I was living in technicolor.

I guess that’s why I hear the birds now. And why I see the flowers. Why it makes me happy. Because a part of me remembers what it was like not to be able to, and I don’t want to be like that anymore. I want to find happy moments and really see them, you know?”

During that time, I stumbled upon the word “sonstraal.” Sonstraal is Afrikaans for sunbeam or a ray of sun. After I found it, I decided that’s what I would call those moments: sonstrale.

I challenged myself to find and see the many small sonstrale that make our days better. And now I challenge you to do the same. What are the things that make you happy?

Maybe it’s making a cup of coffee and sitting in your favorite chair. Not checking your emails, not scrolling through social media, just sitting. Maybe it’s reading your favorite book and not feeling guilty. Maybe it’s walking through your neighborhood and seeing the fresh produce at the market.

Or maybe it’s birds chirping. Maybe it starts with hearing birds chirp.

*This story is the inspiration for the second tattoo I ever got (pictured above). It’s one that means a lot to me. Credits to the artist Joey de Boer. 

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