Not that I had much of a summer (in the traditional sense summer usually entails sunshine) but the swoop into Autumn has been particularly swift this year – seasons changed from one day to the next which to me was shocking because 2020 has lasted precisely three million years.
Now it suddenly seems to have sped up, pumpkins and wreaths are on the not-too-distant horizon. I even heard the dreaded C-word uttered a few times..no not that C – word… the big event of the Christian calendar – it's fair to say we're not exactly dreaming of a Covid Christmas. Virtual sessions of mulled wines huddled over laptops just seems too much to bear…
I’m not sure I’m mentally ready for the shorter days, the longer nights and sub-temperatures if there isn’t even a big party to look forward to at the end of 2020? Mentally I’m still back in the novelty phase where we clapped out our windows, made lots of sourdough bread, and hoarded toilet paper – but pandemic etiquette has moved on – there’s a feeling in the air of ‘get up and get on with it’. Get on with what exactly? Autumn - normally a time for fresh pencils coupled with fresh starts, marks our journey into the colder months and to some extent our plans for 2021. Perhaps we would maybe have a plan of sorts, dare I say some ‘aspirations’ or let me up it again ‘GOALS’. What will 2021 New Year’s resolutions or goals look like this year?
“This year I aim to preserve my sanity”
“This year I aim to attend a wedding”
“This year I aim to travel overseas”
“This year I aim to leave my house once a day”
A pretty sad list wouldn’t you say? But wait… I’m not all doom and gloom – this is not a pity party for one. The rather en vogue habit of 'gratitude journaling’ appealed to me many months ago when we were all in the depths of despair.
I thought I was too cynical for this Goop-ish fad, it seemed like it was at risk of going the way of ‘wellness’ which lost all meaning when even the dog on the street had a wellness regime. Gratitude’s currency nonetheless continued to increase in value during Covid-19 as many of us turned to not only enjoying but documenting life’s simple pleasures.
Spending one or two weeks writing a daily list of three things for which you are grateful has been linked to increasing life satisfaction. Philosophers argue that gratitude is an evolutionary trait to help society function as a whole, that feeling of contentment we get when we do something for someone else is not merely an accident of nature. Society only works if we somehow repay the help that we get from other people - but outside of work there is no real binding incentive to do so, we have evolved a sense of gratitude that makes us do it. We're chasing that natural high that we can only get from doing something for someone else.
The capacity to feel gratitude is largely dependent on having had healthy and nurturing relationships in childhood and early life, which in itself is a reason to be grateful. Yes - be grateful for the gratitude. Think of the bitter and envious people you have met in life, more often than not it is because of difficulties in early life, family relationships etc. which took away that ability to be thankful as their default state.
There is a Buddhist concept known as ‘Mudita’ which means taking pleasure and cultivating joy through other people’s happiness, instead of jealousy or resentment when we see others achieve what we want. Needless to say, I am no Buddha and this is easier said than done – it’s more like when you are having a terrible day just take a minute and imagine someone, somewhere else is having the best day of their life. Right this minute as you read this, someone is elated, someone is fit to burst with joy – and it’s almost impossible not to feel some levels of contentment, because of our in-built gratitude metre.
I was reading back on my journal entries the other day, they run the range from shallow to deep, sensible to ridiculous and everything in between.
Today I am grateful for:
Walked to the corner shop today, a local woman was talking to everyone in line – I think I’ve been away too long cause I couldn’t understand every word – after my third ‘sorry what’ she screamed out that this street is becoming 'TOO BLEEDIN POSH’ anyway this made me laugh and then I snorted which everyone in line heard and contributed to further laughter (although some would argue gentrification is no laughing matter...)
Sweet potato fries – an unsung hero of our times
The garden and being able to go for a walk – flowers and plants are good for the soul and trying to adopt the life metaphor ‘Don’t forget to stop along the way and smell the roses’ which I probably haven’t been doing up until now
Pretty grateful that I have no dependents right now cause I’ve no idea what the f**k I’m doing
It didn’t rain today
The HOUSE PARTY APP
Can I keep reusing Health? Eternally grateful *praying hands emoji*
That I have fully functioning legs and limbs – trying to be more fully appreciative of that fact
Basil plant is growing well
They automatically put salt and vinegar on my chips in the chip shop – I missed that
Having a job, civil rights and protections, healthcare
Novelty of hearing a stranger(s) laugh or seeing someone smile – infectious in a good way (not a Covid way)
Grateful I moved back to an English-speaking country right before this all went down – not sure I could muster these levels of stress/uncertainty in any other language
Watched the sunset on the beach tonight and felt grateful for our eyesight, imagine if I couldn’t see – I would be insufferable to be around, I would not be one of those inspiring people who gets on with life.
Found a great second-hand book stall, picked up a random one at 2EUR and it’s one of those books you can barely put down
Wearing a sundress – having an Aperol spritz on the balcony and feeling optimistic
My daily gratitude journaling lasted until June and just sort of wound down after that, whilst it wasn’t revelatory I did find that doing it in the morning or sometimes at night helped with a positive headspace and also funnily enough the more you are aware of things to be grateful for, the more you’ll seem to find.
I suspect the journaling may resurface if lockdown re-emerges right in time for winter, needless to say the point is that you can find a little joy even in the most ordinary – almost every day I could always find something to be grateful for – no matter how mundane and trivial it was.. I mean… salt and vinegar on my chips?
No matter what country you are in now, what restrictions you face or will face in the coming months – one thing that we can all perhaps share in is our relative gratitude. It's going to be more important than ever before to maintain that spirit of optimism as we batten down the hatches, as they say.. it’s always darkest before dawn.