Gratitude is Not an Emotion

Christmas morning this year began at 4.55am. I thought we had grown out of pre-dawn Christmas starts, but when Posy hopped into my bed on Christmas morning it was with a request to "Please look in my ear - I think a moth crawled into it." I have to say that in twenty three years of parenting I have never had to inspect a child's ear for moths, which just goes to show that there is always a new experience round the corner. Thankfully there were no moths, but as we cuddled back to sleep I was struggling with my Christmas resolution for this to be a day with gratitude to the forefront.

Later as I woke with the sun shining in and I realised it was almost eight o'clock, there was my first moment of gratitude, and I lay and watched my twelve year old baby sleeping angelically and drank in the wonderfulness that is a sleeping child, one who still needs me everyday, if only to check her for moths, and that is a moment to treasure.

More moments of gratitude - I was running around madly getting things done, and getting lunch ready to take out and being grumpy about the fact that my parents were about to arrive and all the girls decided to have a shower and use the bathroom when I wanted a shower, and the breakfast dishes and late night cooking dishes hadn't been done yet, when a little voice inside my head slowed me down.

Here is the truth - my parents don't care if the house is immaculate, they come over because they love us and like to spend time with us. How lucky am I? And sharing a bathroom? Hey, running water is such a privilege. Plus, when I had two bathrooms I had to clean two bathrooms, and that was no fun at all. So when my parents arrived I was still in the shower, and we had presents and fruitcake then Mum and the girls helped with the dishes and Mum rinsed all the lettuce for salad and we all managed to get out the door in time for lunch, gratitude and tempers intact.

Lunch with friends was splendid, as always. Gratitude is easy when you get to spend time with kindred spirits. Here is my gift from my dear friend Karlin - she is a great gardener and very funny. What could be better than a joke gift that is useful and homegrown? I am absolutely using this idea for my work secret santa next year..

Back at home and The Boy arrived on Boxing Day to stay for a couple of weeks which is an unmitigated joy. We had to juggle the sleeping arrangements. The Girl has been here for a month already, and she is upstairs sharing the attic with Rosy. The Boy is sleeping in Posy's room, and Posy is now sharing with me. Later next week when The Boy's partner arrives I will give them my room and I will sleep in Posy's room on a mattress on the floor. I had a brief pang of regret for the large house I left behind, where all the children had their own room. The children themselves have had many pangs of regret over this. But, playing musical bedrooms at Christmastime is a long and honourable tradition. I remember squeezing into cousins' bedrooms like we were sardines, and queueing for the bathroom and getting into trouble Christmas 1984 for using up all the hot water at my aunt's house one day. I mean, I know I like long showers, but I was fifth out of the six persons having a shower that morning.. (clearly there are still residual psychological issues..)

Close quarters means getting in each others' faces a lot, but that means we are forced into relationship - no bad thing in a family of introverts. Conflict resolution is a good thing, right? Last night as we all sat around the table playing a card game with one of The Boy's friends who had popped over for dinner, well, the gratitude was easy. There was just enough room around our small table, but 'just enough' - that's all we need, isn't it?

This is what I am seeing from a few days of attempting to practice gratitude as often as I can remember. I don't have to feel good to feel gratitude. First I search for the good in a situation. Then I feel good. Gratitude is not an emotion, it is a deliberate intent to look for good. And here is the truth. For me it is not hard to be grateful. I have a wonderful life, full of the all the good things; family and friends and hot water and good food and a roof over my head. I don't need to spend any time at all being grumpy and irritable and judgemental and demanding. And yet I do. So going forward I will be practising some gratitude and slowing down to find the good that is all around..


Tanya Murray said…
I have to be constantly vigilant and I have many discussions in my own head about not getting cranky, finding my kindness and not sweating small stuff, especially at Christmas. Perhaps it's just the added many personality challenges at one time on one day! Wishing you the best for the season and a very happy and productive New Year. Love you lots x
Jo said…
Tanya, oh yes, Christmas always makes me cranky. I am so glad to hear that you, Ms Graciousness herself, also struggle to find your kindness at Christmas time. I feel like I am doing much better this year, focussing on the good things, also asking for help more, before I get to the cranky stage, which has never been my strong suit.. wishing you a wonderful year ahead as well:)
Pam in Virginia said…
Hi, Jo!

This is one of my very, very favorite posts ever (and not just of yours). I shall keep its wisdom with me. I am feeling much gratitude for this. It's a funny coincidence that, when I woke up at 5 this morning (I didn't want to wake up at 5, but at least there was not a moth in my ear . . .), I decided to just lie there and think to myself: "Thank you, thank you, thank you" until I went back to sleep. I never did fall back asleep, but I felt more thankful anyway.

Treaders said…
You are so right Jo. I had lunch with a few old colleagues just before Christmas and one guy brought up just that. There is an expression in French "c'est pas normal" - it ain't right/fair/normal - which drives me nuts. He was talking about all the whinging so many of our colleagues do and if only they would look at what they have! I work in Geneva but live in France and Geneva salaries are probably 3-4 times higher than in France. We have excellent conditions of employment, health care, pension and so on so to hear "c'est pas normal" drives me nuts when so many are struggling. And in fact, if you have everything you need and most of what you want you are rich indeed. Happy new year to you. Anna
Unknown said…
You have just affirmed everything I have said to myself this Christmas. My sister decided that the whole family should get together- at my 87 year old mother's house! Since I am the only one who lives nearby, guess who ended up doing most of the preparation, and all of the cooking for eleven people? I was grumpy and stressed (not helped by the heatwave). But then I reminded myself that I love my family, and how marvellous is it to be able to feed that many people? All the food we have available in this country is amazing, and airconditioning too! And it was the best Christmas I have had in decades. So, thank you as always for your good advice, and I hope your coming year brings you lots to be grateful for! Hazel
Jo said…
Pam, I did the same thing this morning - woke up ridiculously early and couldn't get back to sleep, so spent some contemplating the good things - frankly, much harder if you haven't had enough sleep, but much better than fretting or fuming about said lack of sleep. This practice must surely be good for the blood pressure aside from any purely spiritual or moral concerns..

Anna, I am hearing you. So many of us live in bubbles of privilege and don't even realise it. We actually really are the 1%, those of us who have education and electricity and food on the table and healthcare and some discretionary spending capacity. Many of us also have health and family and friends as icing on the cake. Sure, life isn't perfect, but, um, where is the promise that it ever would be? If we are lucky enough to have all the basics covered, then life is what we make of it.

Hazel, I must admit that cooking for 11 people in a heatwave would definitely stretch my capacity for goodwill:) So I am incredibly impressed by your positive attitude! We are such a lucky country, aren't we? When I am horribly irritated by the grocery shopping I have to give myself a mental slap up the side of the head as I remember the millions of mothers around the world who would give anything to be able to feed their children the way that we can feed ours.

And a family we love and who love us? Priceless.

Wishing you all a joyful year ahead as well:)
GretchenJoanna said…
Even in my big house we were playing musical beds over the course of five nights, and I gave up my master bed and bath to take turns along with the teenagers and toddlers in the remaining bath. I kept thinking how extraordinarily sweet it was that all these people wanted to do this in order to be together. I'm grateful with you!
Lucindasans said…
I love Christmas and Christmas Day. I am the one dragging my boys out of bed for present opening. Ha. Now they are grown I get more presents thanks to Mr S. And while I may get snappy and shouts when trying to tidy up and set the table on my own, OK not may, I did shout a martyr's cry if ill do everything myself. I do love the day. The work is shared. Mr S prepares the dinner, I do the nibbles. (Cherry tomatoes, a Basil leaf and mini boccichini on a skewer. Smoked salmon with cream cheeese on mini bred rounds. Dips. Chips.) also made a non -alcoholic cocktail. Plates of chocolates everywhere too. I relax after an hour or two manic prep. My mother can't believe I go out the night before. "Aren't you cleaning and preparing?" No, I'm enjoying my life. My house is clean enough.

And I was grateful I didn't drink. I was able to drive family home and clean dishes as we went so the kitchen and dining areas were clean y midnight!

Yours sounds a similar day. Family. Friends. Youngster running around. Lots of chat and laughter. What's not to to love about those things! And I am continually aware that we are privileged to have such excess of food and safety and fun and joy. And the adults in our family remind our kids!

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