Wednesday 13 December 2017

Lorraine Courtney: My seven-day gratitude challenge

Living gratefully is the big new idea in the self-help industry. But will keeping a journal of thanks actually improve Lorraine Courtney's week?

Lorraine Courtney. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Lorraine Courtney. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Lorraine Courtney

Move over mindfulness, living gratefully is where it's at. It has a high priestess - Janice Kaplan, a magazine editor, writer and TV producer whose book on the subject has been a festive bestseller.

Kaplan reckons that no matter who you are, being grateful can make you a better friend and parent, it can make you successful at work, in your relationships and at life itself.

It can also make you thinner, and this is mandatory for all self-help books. Basically they're quite the claims and in America, there are a lot of people who must by now have everything they want because it has sold so many copies there.

I'm betraying my cynical core and giving it a go:

Seven-day gratitude challenge

I am neither sappy nor spiritual, and while I eat quinoa and kale, I'm not New Agey. I don't meditate and I can't stand self-help. Still, when Kaplan recommends that you start off the first day by saying thanks to someone you love for something simple, I think 'easy peasy'.

I thank my boyfriend for the usual stuff he does anyway that I had stopped noticing. So, without being mawkishly sentimental, I thank him for that exquisite first sip of a cup of tea after a stressful day, for the crisp feeling of clean, sunshine-filled sheets on a newly made bed and for the smell of toast in the morning.

Day two is about expressing gratitude at work. Being grateful for what you have achieved doesn't cut off ambition - studies show it is the best way to succeed.

I realise that my gratitude is generally limited to my life outside of work. Yes, I'm grateful to have a job that I love but often forget all the things there are to love about what I actually do - the meditative joy of putting words on a page, the thrill of meeting and interviewing people whose work you care about and the marvellous shock of seeing your own words published.

The third day is all about enjoying the moment. Kaplan recommends going for a walk or run and instead of using headphones, being grateful for how your body feels.

The boyfriend and I decide to go for a run together, a couple's jog if you please.

"It will get our endorphin levels up," says the boyfriend. And our smugness levels, he doesn't add. "We'll head to Herbert Park and do a few laps."

I get my trainers out of the back of the wardrobe, blow off the dust, and start to lace them up. I notice that the stuffing is coming out of them. I squeeze it back in and hope that nobody notices. We leave the house and break into a slow gallop. We do hear birdsong, but the best part is the hot shower and nice sandwich afterwards.

Whoever buys the milk (generally me) feels that the milk is theirs. I therefore get very aggrieved when my significant other comes in and pours it all in a cereal bowl.

There is none left this morning. This is not good. It annoys me. In fact, the last time he did it I turned on him.

"You are so selfish," I said. He burrowed in the back of the fridge and found some double cream. "It's not the same," I fumed.

Then I remember on day four I must play the flip-it game. If something annoys you, find a reason to be grateful instead. But that's really hard at 7am when you can't have your caffeine fix.

As if Mondays weren't already full of a vague guilt, this week kicked off with the fifth day that's all about being grateful to someone unexpected: the girl at the checkout or the postman.

But then I spot the item on the doormat most likely to strike dread into your heart, more loathed even than a red bill from a utility company, it's the green form from the post office saying that your package couldn't be delivered and you have to do the mile-and-a-half trek to the sorting post office.

The green form has been scrawled on by a postman who is patently not sorry at all; it is the postal equivalent of a sulky teenager forced to apologise for something by their parents.

Indeed, there is no one sorrier than the customer, especially as I was only inside in the kitchen having a cup of tea at the time.

Day six asks you to give of yourself. Volunteer, make a donation, help someone who's struggling.

"'You've gone mad," the boyfriend says as I start telling him about an orphanage in Tanzania. It's my second last day and I'm going all out on the gratitude.

He has arrived home to find me Googling volunteer jobs in Africa. "It's our chance to put something back," I say. "I'm not going," he says. I settle on hosting an Amnestea instead and spend the next hour thinking up suitable venues. Yes, I do feel good about myself.

For my final day I must give public thanks, whether it be via email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or my favourite app.

The effects will be immediate apparently, and proudly smug and self-righteous.

There's quite a lot of narcissism out there right now, narcissism in the guise of empowerment. #Blessed isn't really acceptable unless you're doing it as a deliberate parody. This sort of social media spirituality is really only okay for 13-year-olds and Kim Kardashian. I can't bring myself to upload anything.

So gratitude journals might be at the extreme end of the syrupiness continuum, but the studies are hard to refute. In stepping back and objectifying your life and circumstances in writing, you also step, however briefly, off the treadmill.

I've tried it again today while queuing at the supermarket checkout after a long, hard day.

It didn't make the line move faster, but it did perk me up ever so slightly. There might be something in this after all.

Irish Independent

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