Gratitude & Appreciation

(Written about 3 weeks ago)

Today I woke up in a fairly average mood.

I googled how to treat a swollen fingertip; I scowled at the untidiness of my little room; I weighed myself; I put on a pair of yoga pants even though I knew I definitely wasn’t planning to exercise. Then I went downstairs to get the pack of frozen spinach in my freezer drawer to use as an ice-pack. After saying a grumpy “g’morning” to one of my housemates, I opened the freezer and I saw that my favourite brand of vegan ice-cream was just sitting there.

“Whose is this?” I said. “Why are they using my freezer drawer?”

“I think it’s yours,” she said.

“It’s definitely not mine… I haven’t bought anything.”

“Well no one else gets that brand of ice-cream.”

“But I didn’t buy it…. Hmmm…” I paused, and walking over to my cupboard said, “Well, at least they like vegan ice cream.”

Opening my cupboard, I saw that it was stacked with food.

“What?!” I said, obviously baffled. “Someone’s putting their food in my cupboard!” (Grumpy, sleep-deprived students tend to be very territorial.)

“I think it’s all for you…”

“But… it can’t be. I haven’t ordered anything! I haven’t spent any money! Why are people using my cupboard?!”

“I really think it’s yours…”

This to-and-froing continued for longer than either of us expected, with me insisting that I hadn’t spent a single dime so the food couldn’t be mine, and my housemate gingerly suggesting that it had to be. After what must have been a painfully awkward amount of time for her in retrospect, I finally clocked on to what she was alluding to.

“Wait. Did you buy this?”

“Yes…”

Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

“Oh my God, thank you!” I said, and I hugged her and told her what an incredibly lovely thing to do it was. Some exposition: I’ve recently been having a bit of financial troubles. Due to superfluous overspending in previous weeks (I genuinely think I may have a bit of a money problem but that’s for another day and another post), let’s just say I would have had to spend the next two weeks living on a grand total of £7.30. For the past few days, my meals (if you can call them that) have consisted of white rice, chilli sauce and paprika; not super nutritionally dense.

Anyway, what my housemate did was genuinely one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I am so oblivious and dubious of gestures such as these being done that it took me quite a while to understand what was going on, even though all the food was ‘coincidentally’ vegan, ‘coincidentally’ in my drawers and cupboards, and ‘coincidentally’ the specific items I like to eat. And I was and am incredibly appreciative.

It got me thinking even more about something I’ve been ruminating on anyway for the past couple of months: Gratitude.

Even though I was incredibly grateful in that exact moment, sometimes in my general, overall life, I don’t think I’m as grateful as I should or could be. In fact, I know I’m not. I have a proclivity for focusing on the negatives as opposed to the positives, on all the bad things that happen whilst conveniently disregarding the good. Even if the negatives do often outweigh the positives, it doesn’t mean the positives don’t exist.

I think that lacking gratitude is a very common thing in humankind, especially in Western society. I mean, for God’s sake, British people are stereotyped for their moaning. The problem with having cultures between countries and societies so divided is that it’s easier to only see things within the context of your own culture, and even then we still downgrade our lives through our own perspective of them. Yes, I grew up in a working-class family, but even in the Western world, there are people living in absolute poverty. There are people without a roof over their heads or enough food to last them barely a week. There are children who go to school unable to concentrate because their parents don’t make enough money to afford them a healthy breakfast on a daily basis. There are children who don’t even have parents. I only have one parent and that was tough enough.

Worse yet, in some countries, people are devoid of their basic human rights. Children might not even be going to school or getting any kind of education. I recently watched a video of two men being publically beaten for being found sleeping in the same bed together. It was inhumane. There are countries where women are gang-raped on a regular basis, others where girls as young as 12 are married off to men three times their age. I can’t even imagine being that disenfranchised.

All of this is never to say that anyone isn’t entitled to their emotions. No matter how wealthy, abundant in happiness or privileged you are, everyone is entitled to feel sad – very, very sad if needs be – when something is going wrong. So this isn’t me shrugging off my own issues or anyone who has similar issues – I don’t feel like the phrases, ‘get over it’ or, ‘someone else has it worse’ are particularly productive, because if we all thought in this way, only the least privileged, most destitute person on Earth would be entitled to their misery.

But it is important not to waylay the positive aspects of your day-to-day existence. I need to learn to do this. Not only do I need to be more grateful, I need to better learn how to express my gratitude. I think the latter is more of a priority for me personally; I’ve never been very good at showing how much something may mean to me. There are times in my life where people have done some really selfless things for my benefit or made a thoughtful gesture and I’m a bit ashamed to say I’ve not been as responsive in terms of thankfulness as I could have been. Hindsight is an enlightening but frustrating thing.

Sometimes someone’s apparent lack of gratitude can be down to their lack of self-esteem. For example, depression, ironically, can sometimes make you quite a selfish person. Your mind can become so warped by self-hatred, at these times, I might have genuinely believed that someone was doing something nice for me only for an ulterior motive, and ultimately I didn’t show a great deal of gratitude because I didn’t trust the authenticity of their gesture. This is part of the reason why often very mentally ill people can’t see that those around them are trying to help them. I’ve been on both sides of it: I know what it’s like to be sceptical of people’s goodness – when I was suffering with an eating disorder and my family and friends urged me to go in recovery, I thought they were just ‘trying to make me fat’. I would lash out at those who just wanted me to get better. But I also know what it’s like to reach out to someone you care about with purely good intentions and for them in return to completely disregard and in fact criticize your help. It’s not a nice feeling.

It’s really important to me to become a more grateful person; I hate the idea of being somebody who’s too self-indulgent or deluded to realize the value of their own life and the people in it. I think anyone would agree that it’s important to let people know how much they mean to you. A lot of people aren’t very good at it, unfortunately. Families can and do fall apart from this exact issue; taking each other and/or yourself for granted is something which shouldn’t be underestimated. Something as simple as making someone a cup of tea without being asked can give them a sense of being appreciated. Or buying them a pair of funky socks if they’re a funky-sock collector. It’s the thought that counts, eh? The little things.

Or, just tell someone you love them if you love them, and don’t let it ever be something they forget.

So here are a few things I’m grateful for:

  • My sister: for being my go-to girl; we’ve had a rocky relationship in the past but she’s by far the most supportive and important person in my life
  • My mother: for being the person who brought me into the World and raised me, she tries her best and I love her an awful lot
  • My grandfather: for tolerating me through my worst and most temperamental years
  • My friend Meg: for reassuring me and helping me through this University year
  • My circumstances: for living in a country which allows me to be me without fear of anything more than very slight and sparse disapproval from a few silly people
  • My bedroom at home: for being spacious and my only safe haven
  • Dairy-free ice cream: for tasting like heaven (and not giving me a stomach ache afterwards)
  • Aloe Vera & Shea Butter: for being a godsend for dry skin
  • ‘Breaking Bad’ & ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’: for being the best Goddamn TV shows ever made and cheering me up when I’m down
  • Music: for always, always being there for me

And lastly, I’m grateful to myself. I’m grateful to the part of me which looks ahead with hope for a happier future; I’m grateful to my body for fighting for me when I was voluntarily hating and hurting it; I’m grateful to myself for being my own support system when there was no other.

When you’re usually so self-critical, appreciating yourself for once is a welcome change.