Many of us live in a state of anxiety as we try to manage the constant flow of demands and distractions that characterise our fast-paced world. Sometimes I can hardly breathe I feel so overwhelmed by what’s ahead of me in my day and wonder how I am ever going to tick off the ever-growing list of tasks. However, I am noticing more and more how much a greater attention to gratitude can alleviate stress and give one a sense of joy in the midst of busyness.
As I explored in my previous blog, A State of Preparedness: Preparing our being with gratitude if we reflect on what we are grateful for before we embark on a task – for example, before sitting down at the computer, before going shopping, before studying or teaching, before a meeting – there is a qualitative difference in the level of presence, or what I call ‘awakeness’ that we bring to that task.
If we focus on an innermost attitude of gratitude as the way to approach what we are about to do, then this becomes more important than the task itself, which in turn takes the pressure off.
When we approach our day or task with gratitude we have more capacity to be in a grateful state while doing the task itself. I love what Brother David Steindl-Rast teaches us in his stunningly beautiful YouTube A Good Day, when he says, “You think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness”.
If we bring this awareness to what we are doing, we are more likely to turn our sense of being burdened by what we have to do into a state of feeling that we are allowed to do these things, that everything is a gift. As Brother Steindl-Rast says: “Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes that you can open.”
Deep gratitude is not just about feeling grateful for what we are given or the blessings in our lives, it’s also acting on this and giving back to others out of acknowledgement. We need to be ever-conscious of moving from being ‘grateful for’ towards being ‘grateful to’. In this way, gratitude gives us greater awareness of our interconnectedness with others, and brings greater colour and depth to our day.
When we are grateful we tend to give greater importance to our relationships, so we are not over-identifying with what we are doing, but rather being more aware of the people around us who are enriching us with what they have to give. When we acknowledge this in them we can often “make their day” by affirming their value for who they are, not just what they do. What I call the ‘beneficent circle of gratitude’ is turning around and around and detracting from the circle of busyness.
How we reflect at the end of the day can also have a big impact on our sense of feeling overwhelmed. If we write down just some things that we are grateful for, we bring to the fore all that we were allowed to achieve that day and this gives us the opportunity to honour this as a gift rather than something we needed to tick off a list. We can treasure it, take joy from it and this can nourish us for a contented night’s sleep.
Our stress and anxiety can be reduced by the joy that our gratitude evokes. This joy opens us up to even more gratitude and our world moves from a busy list of things to do to a circle of giving and receiving,