Chapter 4.Self: Mood


Gratitude for the Small Things

The standard habit of the mind is to take careful note what’s not right in our lives and obsess about all that is missing.

But in a new mood, perhaps after a lot of longing and turmoil, we pause and notice some of what has – remarkably – not gone wrong. The house is looking beautiful at the moment. We’re in pretty good health, all things considered. The afternoon sun is deeply reassuring. Sometimes the children are kind. Our partner is – at points – very generous. It’s been quite mild lately. Yesterday, we were happy all evening. We’re quite enjoying our work at the moment.

Gratitude is a mood that grows with age. It is extremely rare properly to delight in flowers or a quiet evening at home, a cup of tea or a walk in the woods when one is under twenty-two. There are so many larger, grander things to be concerned about: romantic love, career fulfillment and political change.

However, it is rare to be left entirely indifferent by smaller things in time. Gradually, almost all one’s earlier, larger aspirations take a hit, perhaps a very large hit. One encounters some of the intractable problems of intimate relationships. One suffers the gap between one’s professional hopes and the available realities. One has a chance to observe how slowly and fitfully the world ever alters in a positive direction. One is fully inducted to the extent of human wickedness and folly – and to one’s own eccentricity, selfishness and madness.

And so, ‘little things’ start to seem somewhat different; no longer a petty distraction from a mighty destiny, no longer an insult to ambition, but a genuine pleasure amidst a litany of troubles, an invitation to bracket anxieties and keep self-criticism at bay, a small resting place for hope in a sea of disappointment. We appreciate the slice of toast, the friendly encounter, the long hot bath, the spring morning – and properly keep in mind how much worse it could, and probably will one day, be.

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