The Cherry Orchard: Gratitude

Image of pink cherry blossom
Cherry blossom by Pedro Jargque Krebs, www.pandotrip.com

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!

Practice

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.

Bonus

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.

Signed by: Monika.

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  1. Cato Pedder on 23 February 2018 at 10:47 am

    I am grateful for you Monika! Since nearly dying 20 years ago everything else has seemed like gravy to me, extra, unasked for and hugely appreciated. xxx

    • Monika Maurer on 23 February 2018 at 11:35 am

      What a beautiful comment. Thank you, Cato. It is terrifying to imagine how – at those junctures in life when events go catastrophically wrong – things might, or might not, have been. But in that imagination comes such immense gratitude. And while I wrote of being grateful for my family I am, of course, also grateful for my wonderful friends, who continue to nourish and inspire me. xxx

  2. Phoenicia on 23 February 2018 at 7:09 pm

    You have made some valid points. Many a time I have felt resentful at doing the laundry, cooking, washing up, mopping the floor yada yada. I admit to snapping when tired and adopting the “woe is me” attitude. I am probably not thankful enough that I have children to look after, a warm and comfortable home and a husband. We can take our lives for granted and overlook what we have.

    On a lighter note I have stopped trying to “beat” the laundry basket. It will never be empty and if so not for long. I am results driven and like when a task has an actual end. Laundry will never end so I need to see it as part and parcel of life.

    • Monika Maurer on 23 February 2018 at 9:09 pm

      How right you are Phoenicia! The laundry will never be done. Another version of this is pairing socks: I have a basket full of clean socks that need pairing and even when I spend an evening going through it there are many singletons left behind – either their partner is still in the laundry or lost forever, who knows!? It is a task with no end. And I’m ok with that – now.
      Like you, my tendency is to feel overwhelmed by all that I have to do and end up snapping when tired. We really do take our lives for granted, and while there is always someone who has it easier than we do there are many who have it far worse. Let’s count our blessings!

  3. William Rusho on 23 February 2018 at 9:19 pm

    A great article. I too love Chekhov, In the Cherry Orchard, I never forget the ending where a family basically abandons the dying servant inside the house.
    You are right about a need to show gratitude. Maybe that is the point of a Cherry Orchard, and ungrateful family leaves a servant to die.
    We sometimes don’t get the gratitude we deserve, but that’s OK. Not thanking someone, or being grateful for someone, is on the person receiving the gift, the person who is giving is still rewarded for doing it. Perhaps, its the person who does things for others, who never received reward or thanks, is the greatest person, for they do things without anticipating a reward or thanks for it.

    • Monika Maurer on 23 February 2018 at 9:34 pm

      I agree William. The gift is in the giving, not the receiving. I certainly receive more pleasure from giving than from receiving although, thinking about it, I could be a more gracious recipient. I need to work on that! I’m so pleased you share my love for Chekhov but reading your comment makes me think I should also revisit Middlemarch! Who would have thought that a health and wellbeing blog would end up considering the canon of literature? Thanks for your comment.

  4. Clare on 23 February 2018 at 10:31 pm

    Thanks Monika, I really enjoyed this piece. So, have you booked tickets? I’m in!

    • Monika Maurer on 23 February 2018 at 11:38 pm

      Do you want to go? I haven’t booked yet, but will! xx

  5. Doreen Pendgracs on 24 February 2018 at 2:47 am

    Hi Monika. Somehow, I find it very natural to express gratitude. It is an integral part of my day. Whether I thank God, those who help me, or myself for doing the right thing, it all feels good. Thx for the insightful post.

    • Monika Maurer on 24 February 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Hi Doreen. Lucky you to be able to express gratitude without having to think about it. But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: by being grateful, we make ourselves feel good!

  6. RoseMary Griffith on 24 February 2018 at 11:27 pm

    I started practicing mindful gratitude about three years ago through keeping a journal. When I am overwhelmed, I pause to consider and state: I’m grateful for food on the table, a roof over our heads, a warm house, arms & legs that function (not gracefully, I will add–ask husband, he laughs at my antics … socks, kitchen floor, sliding, crashing–I so get you).
    Am I great at this yet? No, it truly is something to practice every day. Thanks for the wonderfully expressed reminder.

    • Monika Maurer on 25 February 2018 at 12:18 pm

      Hi RoseMary. Good for you. Was there a particular event that got you practising mindful gratitude I wonder? I don’t think I am disciplined enough to write a daily journal but I am consciously taking time to consider things I am grateful for when they arise. Today it is the sun and the Joni Mitchell song played on the radio as I was cooking. Yet to think of a third, but it’s only midday; there’s still time!

  7. Jeannette Paladino on 15 March 2018 at 2:04 am

    Monika — I laughed at your comment about mis-matched socks. The solution is to buy only one style. Seriously, I am grateful every day for my bounty. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and great family and friends. How much more could I ask for?

    • Monika Maurer on 15 March 2018 at 9:40 am

      Jeannette – I tried the only one style of socks method for a while, but became obsessed with matching the more faded ones with their equally worn partners! Fortunately one of my sons makes a fashion statement out of wearing mismatched socks these days, so all is well. You are so right, as long as we remember to appreciate the small – but essential – comforts of life, everything else is just icing on top!

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