“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Calendars. I spend a lot of time looking at them. As wife-to-be to a touring musician, I’ve gotten used to having to know what’s coming up in a few weeks, a month, a year, even (or not, if you ask Kris: I am getting better at it, but sometimes I feel like if he’s not here, does it matter if I know where he is…? Really? Jokes jokes.)
Seeing the little blank spaces on the wall planner makes us – in theory at least – spend the time we have together more wisely; forcing us to carve family days out from between the slabs of Sharpie-etched weeks.
We’re always looking forward, to time together; to what’s next. This habit has, I realise, leached into every area of my life.
It happens with the weather and the seasons: I know I’m not alone in counting down the days to lighter nights and longer days.
It can happen with work, and with projects – waiting for some task to be completed before moving on; being conscious of the next load of scheduled appointments and meetings. Feeling you aren’t quite as accomplished as you want to be.
I’ve been guilty of it in motherhood: wondering when Soren would conquer the next stage; looking ahead to when he’d sit up, crawl or stand, thinking each new phase would bring some new relief, make things a little bit easier. (I’m still waiting on the Holy Grail of Things Babies Do, aka sleeping all night.)
We’re programmed to look for these things, these little signs of development, and there’s huge amounts of pride and joy in seeing your little one accomplish milestones. Setting ourselves goals and and having ambitions are equally positive traits – life would be pretty dull and potentially terrifying without any forward planning.
In general, though, and as a model for life, constantly having our eyes on some distant prize can lead to some pretty shady behaviour, in that it takes us away from appreciating the here and now.
Of course, having things to look forward to can make us feel better: a holiday, for example, or a big occasion or even just a day off. But thinking about life in terms of It-Won’t-Be-Good-Until only leads us to feel that the life we have now is, well, a bit crap.
We can do it to ourselves in the strangest ways: how many times have you stopped yourself wearing something because you don’t feel you’re in good enough shape, or can’t try something because you’re not already, somehow, good enough at it?
This mindset is something I’m trying to pay attention to. Mindfulness and gratitude are words that are fairly omnipresent (online, in any case – and, the sceptic in me whispers, often only for commercial gain) but the pursuit of these attitudes is, for all that, no less worthy.
Mindfulness and gratitude are words that are fairly omnipresent, but the pursuit of these attitudes is no less worthy.
Taking a moment to actually think about the good things in life, and be grateful for what we have and where we’re at, can give us a new perspective. Even just enough of a shift to make things that are beginning to feel like a chore not so bad, and if we’re lucky, actually enjoyable.
Life can often be framed as one big race to complete: go to school, get good exam results, get a degree, get a good job, get a decent partner, a house, a car… A life led like this is overwhelming; it takes the joy out of alternative routes to happiness and can leave you feeling like you’re not achieving the things you should be, when actually, you’re doing just fine.
I’m attempting to get better at celebrating all the good things I have right now. Sometimes, when I remember, I write a list in a diary. There are countless ways to do this – there are some really lovely gratitude journals, and probably dozens of apps. Oprah does it, and cites part of her success as having come from her attitude of gratitude.
These things don’t have to be grand, it could just be a warm pair of socks or a great breakfast. In fact it’s probably more beneficial to notice and appreciate the little things.
Here are five things I’m grateful for this week:
- The weather lately. Glorious sun; frost; even the wild wind. It wakes me up and makes me feel alive.
- My bed. I don’t see you enough, cosy sheets and comfy mattress, and I’m sorry for that. But I think about you a lot.
- A cup of Bantam’s Brew coffee from Red Rooster Coffee. A really lovely blend from a tiny family run company in Sligo, Ireland.
- Good moisturiser. My skin is like a desert, especially in winter; I love slathering nice cream on and feeling slightly less desiccated.
- Plants. I’m useless with greenery but so far I’ve managed to keep three houseplants alive over winter. Woop!