When “grace” comes to mind, we generally tend to think of flawlessness, Monaco, and all things inbetween. The idea of having grace or being graceful is an incredibly tightly-construed concept developed and it’s something that’s so incredibly far away from its original concept and origin.
“Grace” comes from the Latin word “gratia”, which means “God’s favour”, and so rather than “graceful” meaning “impossibly flawless”, it actually means to have a little je ne sais quoi. That indefinable quality which, rather than being something granted by divine inspiration, is something inside us and which we can easily bring out.
It isn’t unattainable, however—far from it. Living gracefully is pretty simple and definable, and fortunately for people like me, it has nothing to do with being physically graceful. I literally have no balance or graceful skills and am possibly the clumsiest person I know, but in cultivating a sense of gracefulness, I’ve at least learned how to take it on the chin when I do trip over my own feet.
Being graceful is a state of mind, rather than a state of physical perfection, and by utilising three simple and fundamental rules, it’s easy to start cultivating and bringing some grace into your lives.
Rule no. 1: Be Good (to Yourself)
This first rule is both the easiest to implement and perhaps the hardest I’ve tried, and that people I know have tried as well: accept yourself. This is pretty hard when it gets boiled down to it because, let’s face it, we’re living in a society where our media is generally adept at making us aspire to visions of a perfect life; a nearly-unattainable standard of living that, while it makes us want to achieve it, also makes us feel bad that we aren’t there yet. Which, you know, is pretty mean.
So, one of the things I want you to start doing is just accepting yourself. It doesn’t have to be an overnight revelation; it can take days or weeks or months or years of slowly but surely understanding those big flaws you hate about yourself. They’re not flaws, or at least they are, but because they’re yours, you should never have to feel ashamed about them. Even if you wake up one morning and look in the mirror and decide that that one flaw you’ve always hated about yourself, that one attribute, isn’t that important.
The purpose of this rule? Well, besides everyone loving themselves a bit more (which is awesome and should be promoted all the time), being good to yourself makes you want to help other people more. On those days when your hair is great and you’re feeling awesome and that cute barista winks at you, you’re so much more likely to give someone else a helping hand or give someone who needs it a compliment. It’s kind of like that “random act of kindness” thing—you do something good for someone, they feel great and then they do something good for someone else, and so it snowballs on, having a positive chain reaction.
Being good to yourself and accepting yourself is in no way shape or form arrogance or narcissism: you’re not in love with yourself, you just LOVE yourself, and being a graceful person is all about accepting yourself for who you are and choosing who and what you choose to be. There’s a lot of talk about inner beauty and how everyone is beautiful, but you don’t HAVE to be beautiful at all, inside or out, if you don’t choose to be so. Start to treat yourself with kindness and compassion and you’ll see a massive change.
Rule no. 2: Slow Down
Slow down, folks, slow down. Most people, including myself, have a problem with this one, particularly if you’re in a job where you’re pretty juggling seven tasks, a shopping list, social commitments and laundry all while trying to keep fit and you know, have actual human contact if you have a spare five minutes. It is exhausting, and slowing down will not remove your workload—if it could do that, I’d be marketing it as magic—but it will make it more manageable and more easy to handle when something inevitably does fly off the handle.
Slowing down doesn’t have to be a big thing: I started off by simply spending thirty seconds before work just preparing myself (tucking away iPod headphones, straightening my shirt, all that jazz) so that when I walked in, I didn’t look like a total klutz who had just nearly spilt a hot drink down himself while trying to get said headphones untangled. After a while, though, taking a minute or two out for composure started to be pretty good; I got to relax for a bit before work started, even finish a song on my iPod and think about the day ahead. I was more prepared, calmer and more at ease with everything that was going on.
Just try it if you don’t believe me: next time you’re at work or stuck in traffic or at home, just consciously decide to go a bit more slowly. Even if it means you’re an extra five minutes in the shower or in the supermarket, slowing down forces you to become more conscious of what you’re doing. We’ve all been there where we’re rushing around and we end up with the wrong orders, doing the wrong thing—you get what I mean. Take things a bit slower on the other hand and you’re much less likely to burn your hand on the toaster or pick up regular milk for your lactose-intolerant buddy.
I’m not even saying you have to do it all the time. It’s unrealistic and unreasonable—we’re not all living in zones of serenity and zen twenty-four hours a day—but even if you do it for an hour, or even thirty minutes, chances are those thirty minutes will be a haven of peace and calm for you; a time when you’ll feel like you can take on the world without breaking stride or even sweating.
Rule no. 3 – Be Grateful and Gracious
The final, and perhaps most important rule of the whole thing, is this: be grateful. It might seem a strange thing to do but believe me when I say that being grateful for everyone you have in your life and then reflecting that outwards will be not only a fantastic step for all those around you, it’ll make you graceful.
Not that I’m saying you’re not an awesome, considerate person—you probably are—but when your inner monologue is running around at full speed, full of caffeine-fuelled panic and anger, it’s so easy to lose track of the big picture when someone cuts in front of you at the coffee shop or you get soaked by a driver while walking past a puddle. Things that annoy the hell out of you and ruin your day.
The instant reaction? Fury. Annoyance. Frustration. Sadness. Resentment. And a lot of time it is truly, truly justified: if someone does something truly terrible to you, then go ahead and call them out on doing that thing. Loudly. Angrily. But when its the little annoyances, the ones that, while not affecting your body, mind or spirit, just make your day a little less bright and awesome, it might be worth dealing with them by accepting that things could, simply, be worse.
Being grateful isn’t just looking on the bright side of life—it’s knowing that right now in the moment, you are exactly where you’re meant to be and accepting that while things right now might not be fantastic, you’re gonna be fine. The most graceful people in the world are the ones who are centred in the moment and able to be grateful for what is going on in your life.
Think of how Audrey Hepburn acted during her tumultuous personal years: she had bad marriages, a miscarriage, and other personal problems, but always managed to be graceful by being aware of all the good things she had in her life: her children and her friends and her talent.
In the end, being graceful is more than just being kind or chilled out or happy or all the time. Being graceful, or adopting a graceful attitude, is about both dealing with anything life can and will throw at you, and dealing with it with the best tools available to you: kindness to yourself and to others, taking time to be conscious and in the moment, being aware of the good in your life, and choosing to act with that in mind.
Practising these rules on a daily basis is tricky. Some days I’m angry and unfocused and some days I don’t want to be graceful, but I want to keep on trying to be a better person, for myself and my friends and my family, and if practising gracefulness in its truest form helps me do that, I’m more than happy to try.