This is the first of a series of blogs from our ‘ Dancing in Complexity’ series. The idea being that we endeavour to change our lens of our current situation in lockdown to look at what’s possible instead of what’s forbidden. Gratitude is one of a number of themes that will be explored, this one authored by Gerry Prizeman. Others will include for example guest writers on ‘Wellness and the Outdoors’ and ‘Leadership and the Arts’.
Gratitude – A big impact from a simple practice
My daughter Erika recently started her first full time job as a Montessori teacher. It’s a really exciting time for her as she steps out on the ground floor of her adult life. Amidst all the excitement of contracts being signed and first pay-day there’s the trepidation of the significant new responsibilities that go with overseeing young children in their first educational environment. An added dimension for her right now is, of course, the concerns that go hand in glove with being an essential worker today and having to negotiate daily all the potential Covid touchpoints from public transport to asymptomatic little people to just being out and about still. I know from speaking with her that she’s in that space familiar to all of us whereby a mix of excitement and anxiety is the prevailing mood. Excitement at the newness of it all and anxiety about the newness of it all.
As part of managing that anxiety she’s been doing some reading of late on her commute including a book on gratitude. She recently sent a message into our family Whatsapp asking us to take a few minutes to write down what we are grateful for and to do so weekly over the course of this lockdown. Now, I have to admit to finding it easy to moan about things that are not going my way or to be a little tetchy if my best laid plans don’t reach anticipated fruition. The ‘ask’ to think about something I’m grateful for took me in a different direction and encouraged some analysis of my personal balance sheet. The positives that came to mind were, in the main, simple in their make-up but very deep in their impact. Things like a healthy family, a warm bed, food in the fridge, a park and beach nearby and the ability to make choices about how we live.
I don’t want to give the impression that there aren’t everyday challenges, some minor, some more significant. Of course there are but the exercise demanded a sense of perspective. What occurs to me is that we can (certainly I can) allocate more headspace to the challenges and the setbacks in our lives, allowing them to be prevalent in our psyche, often at the expense of the wide range of things we enjoy for which we can and should be grateful. It’s not about banishing reality or promoting self-delusion but rather balancing the available mental real estate to simultaneously accept the challenges that we have to manage while recognising and rejoicing in those things for which we need to be thankful.
We are taught from a very early age to say thank you when someone does something for us or gives us something. This expression of appreciation and gratitude is part of everyday life, so much so that if an expected thank you is not forthcoming we will often be put out or disappointed. How often though do we make the transition from thanking another person to simply expressing thanks inwardly for the good fortune in our lives? To whom or which entity you may want to express such thanks is, of course, your personal choice. I’m reminded of the line with which the great Irish comedian Dave Allen used finish his weekly show on British tv in the 80’s and 90’s – ‘may your God go with you’. For a show that spent a lot of time using religion as a source of humour I always found that valedictory sign off particularly apt. From a more secular perspective, it may be simply a case of karma for which we need to express thanks, on the basis of what goes around comes around.
Ultimately, it is less about to whom or what we may express our gratitude but more about that we find the time to do it in the first place. The deliberate act of taking a few moments to sit down regularly (or even occasionally), shut out the noise to allow us consider our current reality and find the things within it for which we are grateful, is uplifting. It won’t make our challenges go away, it won’t make us richer, it won’t make us more dynamic. It might, though, make us more aware, more kind, more patient, more present and, yes, a little more happy and, perhaps, even a little healthier.
May your God go with you.
If you would like to hear more from us, why not try our November Podcast: ‘Dancing with Complexity’. This podcast introduces this series of blogs.
Eadine Hickey and Gerry Prizeman