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The power of gratitude

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

If there’s one thing that gets my goat, it’s ‘inspirational quotes’. Now, regular readers will know that in fact many things get my goat, but really, inspirational quotes have a special nails-on-blackboard power to irritate. They have pervaded all aspects of life, chirping from coffee-shop boards, tea towels, greeting cards and Instagram: ‘This is the first day of the rest of your life!’, ‘You learn more from failure than success!’, ‘Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today!’, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!’. Give me strength.
I’ll tell you why I’m crying – it’s because this dull, faux-sentimental and usually anonymous guff is so ubiquitous that it has become meaningless. Less inspirational, more eye-roll inducing.
Given this cynicism, it’s paradoxical that the concept of gratitude is one in which I place huge store.
On paper, feeling grateful, proclaiming gratitude, ‘practising gratefulness’ is enough to make me gag with its new-age hippy-dippy self-righteousness, but despite my aversion to all sorts of motivational mantras, being thankful is one of my favourite things to do. I don’t keep a journal or anything (perish the thought) but I make a point of feeling unapologetically thankful on a frequent basis because, frankly, it’s the least I can do.  
Let’s not be under any illusions. I haven’t won the lotto. My pay cheque is far more modest than I would like, and like many others, is negatively disproportionate to the amount of effort invested in my job. I have still not realised my dream of restoring a crumbling mansion in the country to a contender for Home of the Year. I cannot seem to keep myself in a car with a functioning radio or electric windows for any length of time. My wardrobe, while rich in Mayo jerseys, is distinctly lacking in designer labels. I do not own any diamonds, I will not be a ravishing young bride and I have not travelled to the exotic and far-flung destinations I have always dreamed of. Woe!
But. I wake up each morning healthy, able to rise, and go do a job I adore. I live in a place I love, with the best of people in my community, and with a wealth of wonder in the landscape around me. My body enables me to walk and run and explore and work every day. I am blessed to have my parents still, both in good health and generous with their time and advice. Friends who care enough to make an effort. Supportive and patient colleagues who buy me cake on stressful days. A partner I can’t quite believe I was lucky enough to meet and who, inexplicably, never complains that I talk too much about football. The means to feed and clothe myself. So I frequently feel like the luckiest person I know – why would I not? But I also know too that my appreciation lies in the fact that it was not always thus.
There were long months and years when I could find little hope in the world; when all felt grey and numb. When I didn’t quite want to die, but didn’t particularly want to live, either. In May, Green Ribbon Month, I am aware that it is possible that those feelings could one day return; and conscious too that many still feel that hopelessness. Others still felt they could not bear it any longer. So my gratitude lies not in smugness – far from it – but in the knowledge that in a world where bad things can happen in a heartbeat, where sadness can be thrust upon you, or your happiness can simply seep away, it is important to take stock every once in a while and realise what real wealth is.
There is also a science behind gratitude. Being grateful, accepting and capable of appreciating life’s positives contributes to good blood pressure, regular sleeping patterns, better heart health and indeed better mental health.
It’s not just hippy-dippy claptrap. It was that wise woman Oprah who said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Now, there’s a motivational quote I can get on board with.