A few weeks after I had my first child, my Mom passed away. This unfair twist of fate has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. So many times over the past twenty years, I have longed to talk with her, get her advice and wisdom, and hear what she thinks of the life I have created for myself. Thanks to a random sequence of events, I remembered I had long ago packed away a bag of letters, mostly written by my Mom and two Grandmothers.

These letters were sent to me when I first went to summer camp, at age nine, until I graduated from college. I had forgotten about them, even though I knew exactly where they were in my house. Sitting in the back of a drawer in my family room, in a worn Ziplock bag, these letters had been waiting for me to find the courage to open them.

Rereading these letters, after so many years, has been an unexpected blessing. As I sat on the couch that cold January evening, with the bag of letters on my lap, crying what Oprah calls the “ugly cry,” I felt like I was having a conversation with my Mom. I could hear her voice, feel her personality, and I got a much needed dose of the wise words of wisdom she and my Grandmothers often shared with me. I had no idea that rereading the letters would have such a positive impact on me. I was able to get a glimpse into who my Mom and Grandmothers were, from my adult perspective. I now had an opportunity to get to know the women who loved and raised me a little bit better. I was blown away by the wisdom contained in the letters, and the timeless advice that feels incredibly relevant now more than ever.

Here are my 5 favorite pieces of advice:

1. Throughout all of our joys and hard times I have found that the secret ingredient to life is a positive outlook. At times it has been difficult, but I have managed to hold my head up high because of that strong determination to go for it.

Life isn’t always going to be easy. We will all experience challenges, but having a positive outlook will be a determining factor in how we each overcome the challenges we face. I haven’t always been positive. For a long time, I felt angry and sad because my Mom passed away so early. I needed to hear these words, and be reminded that each day we get to decide how we’re going to approach the day, regardless of our circumstances. The older I get, the more I realize finding happiness isn’t about dodging challenges. It’s about having the courage to decide to maintain a positive attitude, even when things get hard.

2. There will be times when things are going astray. What will help you through? Talking to yourself and saying, “I can cope and make life work for me.” “Remember this, Dara,” my mother said, “It will assist you through some hell that life throws to you.” 

What we think matters. A lot. Believing in yourself and practicing positive self talk is incredibly important. We can build ourselves up or tear ourselves down. It took me a long time to realize this, and I’m so glad I did. Telling myself my life sucked or my family was dealt an unfair hand, didn’t serve me well at all. It just made me feel worse. Instead, intentionally practicing positive self talk and using daily affirmations can help shift your mindset.

3. Stress can make anyone crazy. In today’s world we all strive to be accomplished and to do so many things with our lives. However, we must make time to relax and unwind. Make time for yourself. It’s very important because it helps you to regroup, to revive yourself and to relax, not to mention how healthy it is for your body.

It is important to give yourself permission to have a daily self care practice. There will always be things to feel stressed about, but staying grounded and having tools that really work will make all the difference. Daily meditation, yoga, and exercise are the biggest ways I help myself show up each day feeling my best. I find myself leaning on these practices now more than ever, and I’m so grateful to have them. Figure out what tools work for you, and make the commitment to practice them often.

4. It is good to aspire to win, but it is important to be satisfied with your best effort even if it is not good enough to win or to be the best. Honest and sincere effort is being a winner. 

I’ve tried and failed at a lot of things in my life. Knowing you did your best, and trying to let go of holding onto a specific desired outcome, is important. Letting go of my ego and serving myself a big plate of grace has helped me a lot with this. Plus, things often turn out so much better than we could have ever imagined.

5. “Love life, enjoy life and make each day so special that you see the beauty.”

There’s a lot of beauty in the world. We just have to be wililng to open our eyes, pay attention, and notice everything around us. It’s easy to get distracted with all the external noise in the world, especially right now. But, we have to remind ourselves to stay present, release anything that isn’t serving us well,  and remember every day is truly is a gift.

I’m incredibly grateful I found these letters, and received this relevant and timeless advice. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about my Mom and Grandmothers, and I miss them a lot. Reading my Mom’s words, I got a much needed reminder to rise up and make the most of my life. This experience reminded me how important it is to tell the people you love and care about how you feel, not to hold back, and the power of the hand written word. For in the end, it’s the relationships we have with the people we love that truly matters.