The Cherry Orchard: Gratitude
As my favourite Chekhov play opens at Bristol’s Old Vic theatre next month I am reminded of a memorable quote from the great Russian playwright: “Any fool can cope in a crisis. It’s this day to day living that wears you out.”
I love Chekhov. He examines the human condition with a precision, tenderness and melancholic humour unlike anyone else. And how right he is. We all rise to the challenge of a crisis, but how many of us can cheerfully bear the monotony – and sometimes despair – of the daily grind?
The other day I thought to myself: I’ve been folding laundry for 13 years now. (No prizes for guessing what I was doing). It was that simple. And I almost wept when I considered the amount of time I felt I had wasted on this mindless activity. But hold on. Then I realised how lucky I am for I (mostly) fold the laundry of my children. And, even though they may drive me mad much of the time, for them I am so very grateful. And although I don’t generally fold my husband’s laundry, I am grateful for him too. Ultimately we are a loving family unit that would be a keeling boat without any one of us on board.
But back to the laundry. I was folding clothes that had come out clean from my washing machine, which I know I can afford to get fixed or replaced should it ever break down. I was in my new utility room, off my new kitchen, in my very comfortable home. You see where this is heading?
Much of our time these days is spent pursuing things we don’t have but want. Being grateful means we can enjoy what we have without necessarily being a slave to wanting more: gratitude has been described as an effective antidote to the state of desire.
Furthermore, being grateful for what we do have goes hand in hand with knowing what we have to lose, thus making us even more grateful!
It can seem forced or trite to search out things for which to express gratitude on a daily basis. Many of us develop habits where it is easier to dwell on the negative and only remember to express gratitude in a moment of crisis – or at least once it has passed; and never when there’s laundry involved (as I well know). These are habits that threaten to obscure any hopes of fully enjoying the life that we have, that we have worked so hard to build.
People who cultivate a ‘gratitude practice’ are generally happier and healthier, both mentally and physically, than those who don’t. Gratitude helps us be more optimistic and have better social connections: vital for mental health. It also manages stress and boosts our immune system, both of which play a crucial role in our physical health.
Notice the Good Things
Start to notice and identify the things you are grateful for. Tune in to the small everyday details of your life and notice the good things you might sometimes take for granted.
Try these ideas:
- Be grateful. Take some time each day, even if it just while brushing your teeth, to identify three things that you are grateful for. It’s amazing what you notice when you focus on feeling grateful: freckles on your child’s nose; emerging snowdrops after a hard winter; the hearty, homecooked meal you ate that evening. It can be anything. Last night I expressed gratitude for the fact that my foot had finally stopped hurting three weeks on from practising star jumps with Wannabe Junior in the kitchen. Clearly I learnt nothing from the skipping injury.*
- Start a gratitude journal. This takes things a step further. Making a commitment to writing down good things each day makes it more likely that you will notice good things as they happen. Why not even employ modern technology and set a daily reminder on your phone? Don’t feel self conscious about writing anything you feel is clichéd or banal. No-one else is going to see it.
- Practice gratitude rituals. Some people say grace before a meal. Pausing in gratitude before eating doesn’t have to be religious. It’s a simple habit that helps us notice and appreciate the joy of food on the table. Thank the people who provided and cooked the meal that sustains you.
It seems so simple and easy. But if I’d been mindful all those hours I’d spent folding laundry, I would have expected my personal cup of gratitude to be overflowing by now. It’s not easy; it’s a conscious practice that takes effort.
But it’s one worth doing, I think.
So let’s take a little time to appreciate those people and things dear to us. When Madame Ranevsky fails to save her estate with her beloved cherry orchard, she wants to look at the walls of her house a little longer; she feels she’s “never looked at them before”. Maybe we all need to spend a little more time looking, seeing and really appreciating.
There’s blossom on that tree you know. Take a good look and welcome in a happier, healthier you. Let me know how you get on.
Ready to do this? I’d love to hear how you get on.
*Note to self. DO NOT jump around “exercising” on the kitchen floor in just slippers. Your feet will not thank you for it.