Saturday 24 August 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Gratitude, platitudes and attitudes'

The Seven days of Gratitude starts off reasonably enough
The Seven days of Gratitude starts off reasonably enough

Brendan O'Connor

I'm doing the seven days of gratitude on the old meditation app. I can't seem to remember seeking it out as such. I think the app pretty much presented it to me one day so I went along with it. As you know gratitude is all the rage these days. I think the general idea is that if you fill your head with gratitude there's less room for bitterness, or the gratitude at least serves to distract from the bitterness. What? You thought the gratitude might be more about other people and less about serving yourself? No. Don't be naive. Once you get into the whole wellness and mindfulness area to any extent you learn pretty quickly that it's all about the self, and that even things that might seem to be about other people, like compassion and gratitude and forgiveness, are ultimately only done to make you feel better.

In many ways that is probably the difference between old-fashioned religion and modern-day "spiritualism". You know those people who say, "I'm not religious as such, but I am quite a spiritual person"? What those people actually mean is, "Religion for me was a bit too much about other people. I'm a spiritual person because I find being spiritual focuses more on me." I mean, look at karma, as we all understand it these days. It basically means that whatever you put out there you'll get back, so don't put out good vibes for the sake of other people, do it for yourself. So that's the story with gratitude. It seems it's not about making other people feel appreciated. It's about making you feel better.

I've actually always been somewhat of a practitioner of gratitude. Life, as we know, is largely about luck. Bit of hard work might come into it, but it's really luck - good and bad - that determines how things turn out for you. And I'm under no illusions that by and large, so far, I've been, to quote The Life of Brian, a 'lucky, lucky bastard', for which I give thanks all the time. I think I'm generally fairly OK too about saying thanks to people for things. I could probably be a bit less low key about it sometimes, but I find sometimes people get a bit awkward if you lay on the gratitude too thick.

The Seven days of Gratitude starts off reasonably enough, with the usual stuff about how gratitude is good for you and makes you less depressed and less moany. You are then encouraged to be grateful for all the things you might take for granted - your limbs, your senses, the basics that many of us are lucky to take as a baseline. And, in fairness, that does get you thinking that we are lucky to have all the basics in working order, and it's not something we should take for granted - though we do, until one of the basics packs in.

It was the next phase, around Day Four, that I started to wonder about. The app lady was not only suggesting a gratitude journal, but she was encouraging me to write a letter to anyone I felt grateful towards. I assumed initially that this was a letter to be written purely for my own benefit, because the whole thing seems to be for my own benefit. So imagine my surprise when she then said to email the letter, or to 'post it', whatever that means.

The reality is I was never going to write these letters anyway, but I had been vaguely thinking of who I would write them to. But she lost me at the idea of sending them to people. For example, she had suggested that in relationships, after the novelty wears off - her words, not mine, I stress - you might have to remember to be grateful, so maybe a letter might be in order. As it happened my wife and kids were away and I was probably feeling a bit more appreciative of them than I am when they are there. But can you imagine if my wife got a letter from me telling me how much I appreciated her? She'd obviously think I was up to something. Then I thought of various colleagues who I should maybe express more gratitude to in a more formal way. But the reality is they would think such a letter was a wind-up, that I had possibly had some kind of nervous breakdown, or at the least a personality transplant, and they would possibly make a harassment complaint to HR also.

I do think I'm going to freak people out a bit over the next while by verbally expressing appreciation to them at regular intervals, beyond your standard 'thanks'. But in the meantime, just to cover everyone, can I take this opportunity to thank you all for everything. And I say that not for your benefit, but to make me feel better. And you'll be glad to know, I do. So thanks for that too.

Brendan O'Connor's 'Cutting Edge' continues on RTE1, Wednesdays at 9.35 after News and weather.

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