Straight Talk

Contentment and the Zen of Granny

My Grandma wasn’t a zen master. My memories of her though are of a strong will, a peaceful presence and a cheerful attitude. She was wonderful and totally unique. Like many of her generation she had been thru some hard times and had many sorrows. Yet she remained cheerful and unfailingly considerate and polite. I don’t think she thought much about goals or future plans. She simply enjoyed the day for what it was. Like the popular song, her attitude was que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. She had never heard of the zen proverb of chop wood carry water but that is essentially what she did every day of her life. And she was all the happier for it!

As a young adult I met so many women of her generation with a similar disposition and wondered how they did it. And their husbands were also very cheerful. Sure, some older folks were cranky and irritable but they seemed the exception. How was it so many were contented? Younger people sure didn’t seem this way. How did these older women do it? How can we recapture some of that zen-like attitude? Let’s start by thinking about their attitudes and what they did with their time.

Granny was satisfied with what she had

These women were raised before the explosion of advertising that has made most of us want so much more than we have. Or something completely different from what we have. Today we are deluged with images that imply that what we have and what we are just isn’t good enough.

These women were taught acceptance of their lot in life as children. We are keenly aware of the downside of this now so kids are rarely raised this way anymore. We all want our children to be all they can. Still, there is a beauty in acceptance. This doesn’t mean you don’t have goals or plans, it just means you can be alright whether they happen or not. That’s zen-like acceptance.

The biggest step we can take to recapture this feeling is to reduce the amount of media we consume. Balance in all things including media is important for our peace of mind. Media comes with a lot of messages of dissatisfaction and most of us are drowning in them. Better to do something constructive or learn something new with the time. Then we miss the messages and have the satisfaction of learning or doing as well!

Granny kept things simple

Most of the time Granny served simple meals to her family. Many of these meals were repeated over and over again for years, so very often that she completely mastered these dishes. These were the dishes she was famous for, the things family begged for recipes to make. Now we’re often distracted by many yummy-looking dishes that we could potentially try that we often don’t master any at all. And we’re encouraged to believe that that the simplicity of serving simple meals is boring … boring for the cook and those eating alike. So we flit from one idea to the next, never really getting good at making any of them.

Real mastery of simple dishes made cooking a breeze for Granny … she could make a delicious dinner without much thought at all. Gaining that mastery is mostly a willingness to reduce options and then focusing on a few dishes you’d like to make really well. Of course, you’d still want to maintain a reasonable amount of variety, just keep it from getting out of hand. If you do this you get the bonus of greatly simplifying the shopping that needs to be done. Heck, if I could follow thru on this one myself I might one day be more than a good enough cook!

Granny didn’t concern herself with decorating her home in the latest style. She pleased herself instead and displayed whatever caught her fancy to brighten up her home. This usually included lots of pictures of family and bits of bric-a-brac to remind her of special occasions they shared together. She enjoyed keeping things pretty but didn’t put undue pressure on herself to be fashionable. Most of her decorating was about keeping things clean. Interestingly enough, keeping things clean is referred to as decorating by the Sidetracked Home Executives, if memory serves ;-). This is super easy for us to emulate … we can stop caring about whether our homes look like the ones on tv or in the magazines and think about whether our home is clean instead! Doesn’t sound all that exciting I know, but I think it’s more satisfying, if for no other reason than that it is possible to do! Most of us don’t have the means to have the homes featured in magazines.

Granny had fun in wholesome ways

Conversations with friends and family, parties and potlucks, picnics and weddings, reading and church going … these were the things that entertained Granny. Mostly just hanging with family and friends. Gardening offered many challenges to overcome and care of pets was a joy. Creating beautiful things was a part of life. Many practical activities like sewing, crocheting and knitting served as hobbies. Many women took great pride in the clothes they made for children and grandchildren, their homemade decor and making lavish dishes served at parties and get-togethers.

Grandma enjoyed the simple things in life. A bird in a tree outside the kitchen window, children playing, the vividness of blue sky and the prettiness of flowers in her garden.

Many belonged to clubs and volunteer organizations working to improve the lives of those in their community, preserve something beautiful or educate people. These social clubs planned plays, musical performances and community dances often as fund raisers for their cause.

This is so much tougher to do now since so much of community life has been lost and financial necessity makes so many of us work so hard. Real life isn’t as communal as it once was. But I’ve found a lot of community online and of course real world community life is still there around the edges. Also we can all enjoy productive hobbies just as Grandma did. And the simple joys of life are free to all who can see them.

Granny took care of herself while helping others

While she cared for everyone else she took care to see that her needs were met too! She didn’t work herself half to death to meet impossible standards. She did what she could do to the best of her ability and didn’t worry too much about what she had to skip. She ate three square meals a day. She rested when she was tired. She didn’t overcommit her time for months on end. She didn’t do any of these things, and really no one expected her to. That would be have been unreasonable then and it’s still unreasonable now.

She didn’t worry a lot about her appearance. If she was pretty she enjoyed it I’m sure! If beauty had faded somewhat she didn’t obsess about how to regain her prior appearance. While I’m sure she grieved a bit for lost youth, her current stage in life held it’s own charms. And besides, too much concern with looks was seen as vanity, a very undesirable character trait. No one would want to be accused of vanity … that would be very embarrassing! She groomed herself to look as good as she could, then she would forget about her appearance for the most part.

Demands on our time and pressure from society for all of us to look like photoshopped 20ish supermodels make taking care of ourselves in body and in mind so much more difficult than it was for Grandma. So I try to bring it up from time-to-time, just as a reminder. A lot of this one is about attitude. It’s about remembering that you and your needs are important too!

So there we have it! They had zen-like contentment at least in part because they practiced gratitude and acceptance, they kept their life and work as simple as they could, they had good clean fun and took good care of themselves. And they kept what’s most important in life close to their heart and always on their mind. And did they ever know how to laugh! These women are such an inspiration to me! So many of them are gone now and I miss them dearly. But I can keep them in my heart and I can talk about them, how they lived their lives and what was important to them. And I hope we can all remember them and their example to us more vividly as a result.

Tell us all about your Granny in the comments below …

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25 thoughts on “Contentment and the Zen of Granny

  1. What a great post! Thank you!
    One granny worked outside the home all her life, never had time for social groups but always had time for family. She had the same attitude you speak of and was careful and frugal even when she didn’t have to be.
    My other granny was a homemaker that never learned to drive and raised 10 children and helped raise several grandchildren. I never heard her complain of the hard work she did or the things she did without or the effort spent nursing my grandfather for many years.
    Both are gone now but I think of them often. Especially when I’m canning.

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    1. It’s a struggle for me too … so much has changed, there’s just less support for it, I think. We’re pretty much bombarded with negative messages, mostly trying to sell us stuff. Cutting down on media helps me quite a bit to feel more settled and at ease.

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  2. Hey! Bopping over from TALU πŸ˜‰ … I acquired an old photo of my great-grandmother. It looks to be from about 1910 or so. I never knew her, but I look at her and try to comprehend how hard she must have worked. And yet…she looks like she had been giggling. Like someone is about to make her crack up unless she controls herself. GREAT post!! Loved it very much!

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    1. My great-grandmother, Mother Warren seemed to be always giggling. When she was about 90 and my grandma was about 70 they had all kinds of private jokes :-). They were constantly cracking each other up!

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  3. I barely remember my grandmothers! We had little interaction, even though one lived in the same town when i was really little. Then she moved to be house keeper for some one with a huge estate – well huge for me at the age of 5 or so. I so fondly recall the enormous fish pond, it fascinated me more than the smaller gold fish pond along side! But i do recall my granny’s sister! she lived all her life (as i recall her) in a small house, wood stove and she had the best stories to tell πŸ™‚
    I think the wood stoves int he kitchens back then i still long for! My other grandma had one too!
    I think i need to get me one, now that i am a granny πŸ™‚ The hard work and not really complaining about any thing is what i strive for as well! Taking time for people not things and thus balancing out the next generations “restlessness” of always going and doing. It is after all a balance game …
    The simple meals i have long adopted! My kids friends used to stay for dinner and i recall one in particular – she had the guts to say it πŸ™‚ – your food never looks great but it tastes so much better than any other food! Thank you πŸ™‚ I still make a lot of one pot meals!
    May be i should post my CANNOT HAVE THANKSGIVING WITHOUT YOUR STUFFING MOM on my website??? it has always been my little secret….

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    1. Love those simple dishes! I’m planning to work on the recipe section of this site by adding a bunch of vintage recipes, all simple of course!

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  4. In terms of the outlook/attitude/work ethic/frugality, your Granny sounds very similar to my Grammy, but then I had to stop when I got to where you said … “And did they ever know how to laugh!” It’s not that she never laughed, but mine was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide and always seemed to carry that around with her, making her very quiet and somber. Those rare occasions where she really ripped loose were truly precious because they meant all that much more. She was the sweetest, most gentle and loving woman I have ever known. [#TALU]

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    1. It’s humbling when you think about how our grandparents lived, with many of them suffering hard times or in the case of your Grammy true trauma. Yet, they were content. It really puts things in perspective. Thanks for sharing this :-).

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  5. My dad just told me the other day that I remind him of my Grandma. He said his doctor would call her “old doc’ Klenner” because she would try a plethora of home remedies before taking them (there were 13 kids) into the doctor.

    I am glad to be like my Grandma. She was an awesome woman πŸ™‚

    Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday! I am excited to see what you have to share this week.

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  6. I have become a Nanna to my grandson, because to me a Grandmother is not me…yet. πŸ™‚ Too young in heart to be one! hehe
    But as for my attitude, I was surrounded by large groups of these women, in my youth. When I worked for Home Support, they were my clients. I grew up on a small hobby farm. I was my father’s right hand “man” and my mother’s assistant in all things…. Canning, picking, gardening, cleaning, etc. So I was well trained to live, love and think just as you speak. In married years, I tried to continue the same trends, impart them to my children, but that has not worked out… They are too busy looking to the other minds to pay attention to me yet…. *grins*.
    But yes, all you say is in my heart, from saving a pie box to place my own into the freezer, to saving an old chair and recovering it with love. πŸ™‚ It *is* a great way of life and the only way that is sound of mind and encouraging to the hearts around me.

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  7. I love this! I find myself finding happiness in trying to live more like granny did. Simplicity is invigorating and there is so much beauty to be found in things otherwise looked over or not noticed at all. Love it!

    (visiting from Homestead Barn Hop)

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

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  8. I love my Granny! She is inspiration to me for sure. She is 94 and still going strong. She was always content to just life a simple little life. She and her freinds held “club” each month for over 60 years. They would get together and quilt and play games etc. It was just about being together and supporting each other. I treasure the quilt that I got from her years ago. A quilt was lovingly made by the ladies in the club.

    Grandma didn’t need much, she didn’t need to travel far from home. She just lived a quiet life. She had a real zest for life in general. I am working on living a simple life like her. She is a big part of the ispritation for my blog. One of my first blog posts was about her. I write at http://www.lifelesshurried.com

    I am alot like her, and very much like my great Grandmother. While serving a mission, I earned the nickname Grandma Betty. I cooked well like Betty Crocker (oh my) and I had the qualities of nurturing like when you think of Grandma. I was young at the time, yet I still had those qualities. Sometimes I wonder If I still have them. It seems like as I get wrapped up in the media and internet I loose part of that. I am activly working on gaining much of that back. I find that it is good for my health, heart, and soul..

    I love your blog and come and read often. Thank you for your words of ispiration. I hope more people can catch the vision and become more like granny.

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  9. Another great post Kathy. I didn’t get to meet either of my grandmothers. But my mother is 93 and she taught me about enjoying the simpler things in life. I agree today young people have a hard time being satisfied. I feel sorry for them. We should do a better job in teaching them. That is what I try to do with my grand children πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for sharing at The Gathering Spot. Have a wonderful week πŸ™‚

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  10. I think the two best words up top were “acceptance” and “gratitude”. Hit the nail on the head with that one, lady. Well said.

    I would add: sacrifice. My grandmother was the first female litigator in the county where we live, but she gave up her law career to get married and have children. But she didn’t want to stay home, and my grandad didn’t want to work! But they did what was expected of them, had acceptance and gratitude for each other and their children and were happily married for over 60 years.

    This post has way too many relevant points to discuss all in all. Thank you for the thought behind this post today!

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  11. Such timely advice! I’ve really been enjoying your blog! Thanks for all the hard work you put into it!

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