It’s easy to take people and things for granted when we see them every day. They become part of the wallpaper, like the colours in our sitting room. We no longer really notice them: the eye and brain no longer pay attention. And yet that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate them – after all, we chose them and on both conscious and unconscious levels they probably still give us pleasure.
But the quality of our lives is greatly enhanced when we do stop to open our eyes to those things that we can be grateful for. As a mental focus it brings great benefit and more happiness. But little happens in the mind unless we train it to seek out what supports us and gives us pleasure. Perhaps take a moment now to turn away from this screen and look around you at the items or people who surround you. What brings a smile to your lips? What warms your heart? What can you be pleased with yourself for having created, bought or brought into your life?
It strikes me that if children in schools could be taught this practice of gratitude-awareness they might become less anxious and depressed. With endless reports of rising numbers of young people suffering from mental illness I can’t believe it wouldn’t help them stay stable and become more resilient if they had their eyes opened to what they can be grateful for.
Perhaps every morning in assembly or in their class they could be encouraged to stop and reflect on how fortunate they are in one way or another. They might start with three things each day and raise that up to as many as ten or more as they become more aware of what they have that brings them support or enjoyment – whether it be loving parents, friends, good health, a home, the skills or talents they personally possess.
Might the ISIS bride, Shamima Begum, who now wants to return to the UK, have been less keen to run away had she been encouraged more forcefully to be more aware of the benefits she wishes to return to – stable government, her family, the NHS to look after her and her baby, education, work, the welfare system? Might she have thought twice about the attraction of Syria had those around her reminded her daily of what she would be giving up? But she says she doesn’t regret her choice, nor was she fazed by the sight of barbarity or severed heads… and yet she wants to return. But that’s another subject, and personally unless she can prove her loyalty and gratitude to this country then to me it’s very questionable as to whether she should be allowed to come back.
Someone of a similar age, who proves how intelligent and articulate one can be at a young age, and who does feel grateful, is Soutiam Goodarzi, a 16 year old from Iran, who has written an excellent and heart-felt article in The Spectator this week. https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/02/i-was-forced-to-wear-a-hijab-it-wasnt-liberating/ In it she berates the West for celebrating ‘World Hijab Day’ and shares her own experience of the morality and modesty police in Iran, who forced her to wear the hijab and hide every strand of hair from men. The premise is that it is always the woman’s fault, even if she is only 6 years old.
Soutiam celebrates the day she came to the UK “in Britain I realise I now have a voice, and that I am not a second-class citizen who should be scared of talking out of turn. I have also realised that I don’t deserve to be scolded by religious men or women for ditching the hijab. In Britain, it is acceptable to be a free woman. You don’t have to obey the restrictive demands of your father, husband or government.” Again, here is someone, despite her young age, who knows the difference and is fully aware of how much there is to appreciate and be grateful for as a woman in this culture and way of life.
When someone is practising gratitude they are less aggressive. It’s difficult to feel grateful and angry at the same time. It isn’t a fluffy, touchy-feely thing. This isn’t about being blind to negative factors of life but it is about noticing and counting the silver linings in any situation – someone may be ill but they may equally have loving family around them, good medicine, audio books they can listen to if they can’t physically hold a book. Small things that matter.
We can reframe many situations and indeed hostile feelings towards others by stopping to reflect on what we appreciate about them, even if something they have done has hurt or offended us. This means that when we do give them feedback about an issue we will hopefully be more balanced and see the behaviour that irritates us within the context of the many other things they may do that please us.
Feeling hurt, angry or depressed occurs when the mind is focused on what is missing, what we haven’t got, what is unfair or what is wrong. Being grateful is to shine the light on what we have got. But it won’t happen without the mental decision to identify the good aspects of our lives, the good friends, family and colleagues whom we appreciate and who support us.
Do you think we could persuade schools to adopt this mental habit and show children and young people how to practice gratitude-awareness? Might you be able to notice one or two things now that you value and appreciate and perhaps share these ideas with your children or grandchildren?