The Gracious Disposition
Positivity + Gratitude + Civility
I’m not writing this from a pedestal. I am not the paragon of a gracious disposition. In fact, I feel snarky more often than not and when the red devil comes to town that sinks to some where right around the B-zone. No, I’m not the paragon.
Instead, I’m the pupil trying to figure out what a gracious disposition means and how to embrace that and make it my own. Ultimately, I’m working to create and enjoy the well-lived life: a life that has meaning and joy, a life that values and respects others, a life that is gracious!
The older I get the more I realize life happens and for all my planning things go wrong (I’m quiet Type A and an Enneagram 1, so you can imagine how much I plan). At that point, I have 2 choices: I can get mired down in the mess and feel sorry for myself (the “woe is me” reaction) or I can choose to react calmly and with a fresh perspective by stepping back and evaluating why and what happened, so I can find a productive response.
The power is in the choice. The power is controlling my reaction and acting with self-possession. Feeling sad and disappointed are still perfectly reasonable reactions, but these feelings have to be bound by serious limitations.
We must realize that we have control over ourselves and our reactions. We have to commit to choosing the second option and that is how we succeed.
But as difficult as this decision may be, choosing is only the first step. New questions arise:
What perspective do I take?
How do I deal with the mess?
And the answer to both: with a gracious disposition!
I hosted Christmas this past year for my family. I planned all the meals down to what drinks and appetizers would be served with each meal. I gave each guest specific dishes or categories of things to bring (our family cannot arrive empty handed, it is just not in our DNA). One of my guests went above and beyond her 2 appetizers, and actually brought enough for all 4 days. Totally obliterating any need for the others I had planned. Not a big deal to most of you. Maybe you’re thinking great, I don’t have to prepare those and I’ll freeze that and save it for later. Right reaction!
But for me, remember I’m type A and an Enneagram 1, this totally throws me for a loop. I feel aggravated and my menu disrespected. Did she not think I could pull this off? Did she dislike my food? It took me stepping back and tuning into why I was overreacting. I had to consciously choose a gracious attitude to realize that and accept it as a gift - to be thankful.
So just what is a gracious disposition?
POSITIVITY + GRATITUDE + CIVILITY
This is the winning combo for me. This perspective makes me feel calmer, happier, kinder, and more respectful. It brings out my best self!
It is not about being bubbly or cheerful all the time, but it is a fundamental choice to see the glass half full. In my opinion positivity stems from 2 actions:
No. 1 Self-control
You’ve already chosen to act with self-possession by selecting the second option when bad things happen. And like I said there is power in realizing your ability to control yourself. To take this one step further, you must acknowledge that thought produces feeling.
This simple acknowledgement means that you are the maker of your own happiness! It means you can step off that emotional rollercoaster and choose your reaction and actions!
Of course it may seem easier to ride that rollercoaster, but be careful of falling prey to this kind of indulgence. Too often we think that indulgence is a freeing act, but really that’s a lie we tell ourselves to justify bad behavior and bad habits.
When it feels impossible, remember self-control is one of the skills God gave us:
“For the Spirit, God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:7
No. 2 Adopting an Optimistic Perspective
“Today is a good day for a good day.” ~ Joanna Gaines
I love this line from Joanna Gaines it’s a simple, straight-forward message all about how you choose to see the world, your life, and the possibilities around you. Do you choose to see them as opportunities or chores? Do you see them with hope in your heart or cynicism?
This is pretty lofty stuff no doubt. Lately, though, I’m trying to apply this message to something totally mundane that I absolutely despise: cleaning the dishes! It’s about small steps peonies!
I despise getting my hands all soppy and touching food scraps. I hate standing at the sink and how long it takes. I hate scrubbing, and inevitably I splash water all over my shirtfront and I hate that too! Instead of focusing on all the bad nesscitiies of this chore, I’m trying to look at it in a positive light. To stop judging doing the dishes as a less valuable use of my time, and instead see it as a way to care for my family and home. Plus, I really appreciate the end result - a clean kitchen!
With gratitude there is joy.
Ingredient number two of a gracious disposition is gratitude. Gratitude is about recognizing all the gifts in your life and indeed the very gift of life itself. Gratitude takes positivity one step further past perspective into action - the action of thankfulness!
It is about feeling humility not entitlement and acting on it.
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Gratitude is deeply rooted in mindfulness for we have to be aware and present to feel gratitude daily.
Too often we get caught up in looking forward. We get caught up in striving for the next best thing, the next goal, the next big event…
This creates an “I’ll be happy when…” mentality that places us in a constant state of longing. It moves the line of contentment every time we get close. There is nothing wrong with having ambitions and striving for the things you want in life, but don’t get so focused on the milestone up ahead that you miss the journey.
Right now for me my “I’ll be happy when…” rut is having my house fully remodeled and decorated. Two years ago S. and I bought a fixer upper built in the 1960’s that decoratively never left the 80’s. The house has beautiful bones and amazing curb appeal.
There is so much to love, but more often than not I look around at the ugly wall paper and mismatched, stained carpet and all I can think about is how much happier I’ll be when it’s done…someday. The state of our remodel causes me to hesitate to entertain as much as I’d like to, and I can’t help but feel disheartened at how long it is taking us to finish renovating.
Getting stuck in this rut makes me discount all the amazing times and memories S. and I have already made in this house regardless of ugly wallpaper. With gratitude in my heart, I can appreciate how far we've come already in the renovation process and the tangible bond we’ve reaffirmed doing the renovations together.
No one enjoys waiting, and admittedly I am an extremely impatient person most of the time. But is there joy to be found in waiting? With gratitude I think there is.
“Civility is the place of encounter between self and other where altruism and self-interest find a harmonious way to co-exist.” ~ P.M. Forni
So far the first two ingredients of a gracious disposition have been singular - focused on your personal mindset and choices. But you don’t live in a bubble, so this third component, civility, is about interacting with others, making connections, and building relationships.
It is vital to recognize that our relations with others are a main source of meaning and happiness in our lives, so how are we going to interact in a way that produces harmony and fosters grace?
The answer is with civility.
You may hear the word civility and think, “Oh that just means having good manners!” But it is so much more than that. Good manners, as P.M. Forni, proposes are simply “the way of the encounter.” In other words, the means by which civility is most often conveyed but not the sum nor the priority.
Civility is about appealing to the best in each other. It is about empathy and self-possession. Acting with civility means you are aware of others and decide to treat them with courtesy to bestow respect and attention upon them.
Reach out to others with love.
Embrace them with acceptance.
Give without expectation.
Writing the above has been both enlightening for me and cathartic. I just set some terribly lofty goals, didn’t I?
I’m not suggesting adopting a gracious disposition will be easy. In fact, it may feel like putting on shoes that don’t fit, and since trying to adopt this attitude I’ve more than once felt like an imposter. I don’t, and you shouldn’t either, expect to always embody this ideal. Afterall, we are not perfect.
You are not perfect!
Let that thought unburden you but not negate your responsibility to be your best self.
I like to think myself a smart woman who has gumption in spades, celebrates charm and color, welcomes adventure, and appreciates everyday beauty. With a gracious disposition I just might get there!