Gratitude can feel like a bit of a dirty word. It feels like one of those words that people have painted on the wall or a buzzword that yoga teachers preach about whilst in the middle of savasana*. And most of all, in our lowest moments, the idea of gratitude can feel ineffective.
*plot twist I instead have gratitude on a tshirt that I chose to wear whilst I do yoga. I proudly live the stereotype. So sue me.
Talking about gratitude, especially in the face of real hardship, can feel tone-deaf at the best of times, and I do not wish to speak for anyone’s experience. Rather I would like to write my little ramblings in the hope that maybe it is useful for another strange soul out there reading this on the internet.
Recently I finished series 4 of Bigmouth on Netflix. To summarise quickly Bigmouth is a crude and comedic cartoon that follows a group of teenagers around as they navigate growing up and all the challenges that this brings. Though it is a controversial series, and at times feels a step too far, I finished the last episode feeling genuinely touched.
In the most recent series there has been a particular emphasis on mental health, and it approaches the subject fantastically. It does not glamorize nor preach, but rather it deals with issues like anxiety and depression with a profoundness and maturity that is shocking for a cartoon with catchphrases that are just too rude to post here. Instead of taking on a heavy undertone, the show anthropomorphizes these difficult emotions into cartoon characters. These otherworldly creatures like the ‘Depression Kitty’, the ‘Anxiety mosquito’ and the ‘Shame Wizard’ follow round characters like Jessie, Andrew and Nick as they struggle to come to terms with themselves.
Episode 4 features a strange and psychedelic sequence in which the main characters begin to hallucinate their deepest fears. Jessie, who has been struggling with her mental health, imagines herself trapped inside an insane aslyum. Her fears that her depression is slowly driving her crazy ends in her trying to escape and falling into a large swamp.
Upon emerging she is greeted by a large toad on a lily-pad. This charming Southern fella is called the ‘Gratitoad’. The Gratitoad does not diminish what she is feeling but he does encourage Jessie to think about what she is thankful for in her life. This sequence could feel saccharine and inauthentic, but this is soon shattered when the only thing Jessie can find to be grateful for is Sour Patch Kids sweets. But these seeds of gratitude have been planted…
As Jessie introduces the Gratitoad to the other kids things become climatic and end with the Gratitoad fighting in a mega anime style battle with The Anxiety Mosquito. Though the mosquito is never killed, with the help of the Gratitoad it certainly looks a lot smaller and manageable.
And I suppose this is the point, no-one is saying practicing gratitude will rid you of all your problems and worries. But it can makes that annoying buzzing in your ear sound a lot quieter!
Hating 2020 has unsurprisingly become a meme.
Yes, this was not the year we necessarily had in mind, but that makes trying to be thankful for what we do have in this time even more important.
Many of us have had plans cancelled, our careers halted or potentially even stopped, and finding a partner is like finding that necklace I lost in the garden when I was younger. [Spoiler alert I never found it- I am convinced a crow is out there somewhere living his best accessorized life].
It is a bit of a shit show, there is no denying that, but when you think about what some people have lost in this pandemic I feel so beyond grateful to be where I am. I have my health, I have my family, I can sit here comfortably and write this blog post with a cup of delicious peppermint tea. I am so lucky to be in position I am in and for that I am so beyond grateful.
So when I think about having to put my life on hold, yeah it is not what I planned, but I am ok to sacrifice that. It is a waste of time to be allow that Anxiety Mosquito to sit in my ear telling me everything that could have/should have/ would have happened. This verb tense in Spanish is called the Conditional tense for a reason…
So when this Anxiety Mosquito wants to negate everything that we are currently achieving and compare it to what was planned, its vital to bring out the Gratitoad to eat that flying pest.
For example, each day I try to think about the things I am grateful for. Though of course I think about the big stuff, like the people in my life, I also make room for the tiny insignificant feeling stuff. Like how much I bloody loved the pasta I ate for lunch, or the way the sun shines through my window, or how strong and able I felt after my workout. And though it may feel like a small thing to do, the more I look at what I am thankful for, the luckier and happier I feel.
In a purely scientific sense, this is defined as confirmation bias. Our brain wants to confirm that our current thoughts are correct, and as such, we look for evidence to support these views. In much the same sense as when we are having a bad day it just feels like shit piling upon shit, the same can happen in a positive way. If I feel like I am a lucky and #blessed (lol) person, I naturally overlook petty things that might have annoyed me previously like waiting in a long queue. It’s not about being delusional, or about toxic positivity. We can still feel annoyed, sad or dejected about things. It is healthy to feel and honour these emotions. But practising gratitude is the determination to not stay down.
It is about changing our current point of view to build a better outlook, and hopefully over the long run better overall mental health. I remember hearing something poignant the other day about eclipses which feels relevant. Sometimes we can feel like this object has blocked out all our light and all we can see is darkness. But for anyone who isn’t standing in our position, they see a shining sun stood over a tiny moon. If we were to shift just a little to the side, we would see this moon shifting to reveal that this obstacle that felt insurmountable was actually tiny comparable to the beautiful shining light underneath.
Song of the day-
The song of the day for the theme of gratitude is Toast by Koffee!
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