Written by Charlie Martina
Monday Morning, Pre-Gratitude
I wake in the morning and look out of my window. Rain. Ugh. I sit up and swivel on my bed, reluctantly beginning to get up. I shove the nearest thing on my cold bare feet and my shoulders tighten as I shiver. I slump downstairs, neck a bitter coffee, and mindlessly chew on toast. I have to walk to work because I can’t afford a taxi. I sigh. The walk is cold and the environment hostile. Wind and rain rattle around me, giving me a headache. I drag myself through a twelve-hour shift and return home. A few people text me. I regretfully order the nearest takeaway for dinner. I go to bed. I can’t sleep and my mind is full of clutter.
The world as we know it is a catalyst for dissatisfaction. Capitalism, consumerism, pop culture, advertising, film/TV, and social media all have their part to play. We look outwards with envy and protect our loved ones and possessions with prickly, obsessive jealousy. We believe we need to be smart, attractive, cultured, and well-travelled with dozens of friends, a soulmate, a big house, and a successful career. On top of all that we’re told by self-help literature that it’s our fault if we don’t have it all.
I have struggled with my mental health since I was a young teenager. I am much too familiar with feelings of dissatisfaction, loss of motivation, existential dread, and so on. I have to continuously work hard to achieve a healthy mind. I’ve received therapy, sought medical help, carried out spiritual practices and healing methods, exercised, talked to friends, cut out alcohol, and more. Life is messy, and there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for mental ailments, but one of my favourite techniques that has budged a lot of my negativity and dissatisfaction is practising gratitude.
Gratitude can help us in so many ways. Now that I know how much we appreciate each other, I am so much closer to my friends and family. It has meant I am more observant and present in the moment. It helps counteract my negative feelings, behaviours, and values such as sadness, materialism, and negative social comparison.
Without gratitude, achieving our wildest goals and dreams can feel anticlimactic and lead to us grasping for the next thing – never fully satisfied. The truth is, bucketloads of joy can be found in our lives if we choose to look. Take a crisis for example, the little things in life feel amazing afterwards. A card from a friend after being apart throughout months of lockdown, seeing a beautiful flower after the death of a loved one, a bar of chocolate after being ill for days. If we choose it, life can be this worthwhile all the time.
Today, I am 23. Next year, I will be 24. I don’t want to merely go through the motions of life, I want to live fully whilst I still have a chance. We have a relatively short time on this planet, and being thankful for things makes my life so much better. It doesn’t mean life has to be without sadness or hurt – these things are incredibly important, too. Difficult times make for incredibly formative experiences, ones that are certainly worth being grateful for.
One day, humans will die out. We have one chance to live the way we want to. This might seem terrifying, but really it sets us free. We get to choose what has meaning; we get to choose what we love. Nothing seems to matter much when we remember we are floating on a tiny rock in the midst of an inconceivably enormous universe. We might as well be thankful for what we have and find gratitude in everything, even the smallest of things.
Monday Morning, Post-Gratitude
I wake in the morning and look out of my window. Rain. I smile and breathe in the fresh, brisk air. I sit up slowly and run my fingers through my hair. It feels soft and smells like coconut from the hair mask I did last night. My slipper socks are on the floor near my bed; I snuggle my feet into them and am delighted to feel their soft, warm lining. I drop my shoulders and notice the cool chill in my bedroom that gives me a pleasant shudder. I make my way downstairs, running my hand along the wooden banister. The coffee machine whirrs. The nutty aroma of my fresh coffee lingers in the air and the steam tickles my nose as I hold the mug up to my face. I walk to work and notice a new café on the corner. A butterfly sits on a dewy leaf on the flower bush next to my building. Work is fun and I meet lots of new people. A few people I love text me throughout the day and my heart swells when I hear from them. I treat myself to a takeaway for dinner, and I savour the fragrant curry when it arrives. I snuggle up in bed and do a calming meditation. I drift off in quiet tranquillity.
I bring intentional joy to my life each day by gratitude journaling. Here are some things I was thankful for in 2020, from the little to the big. I hope this leaves you feeling inspired and reminds you of the funny little things that have happened in your life recently.
Excerpts from My Journal, 31/12/2019 – 31/12/2020
Preparing to do a night shift on New Year’s Eve, arriving and the managers saying they don’t need us, so we don’t have to work. Going instead to hang out with my best friends, staying up late and having a heart circle about what we’ve learned in 2019 and what we expect from 2020. (UPDATE: none of us expected what happened in 2020).
Going swimming with my mama, enjoying the steam room, and noticing that I couldn’t see people’s faces through the foggy mist. I felt like I was in a Murakami novel.
Someone on public transport was sucking jelly out of a pot really loudly. At first, I found this extremely annoying until I stopped, took a breath, and saw how hilarious it really was.
Having tea at a café with my best friend. Realising we forgot to pay in the middle of the night.
Meeting my new service user, an elderly lady who I’m going to keep company and offer support to. She trusted me with her secrets the first time I met her and now we’re friends.
Finding out me and my best friend both read Roald Dahl’s poem The Pig for a competition in primary school and won. We lived in different parts of the country growing up. Proceeding to recite the entire poem over lunch at our local vegan café.
A friend telling me more about their life and vice versa during a deep clean of our flat. Discussions about life, loss, love, and everything in between are always welcome.
Competitively hanging teaspoons from our noses to see who can do it for the longest.
French toast croissant with berries… and meringue and cream. Unreal. Waking up to beautiful sunshine, feeling the love, and listening to music. Feeling lentekriebels even though it’s still chilly outside.
The planetarium in the World Museum. Grateful to feel in awe when I look at the stars.
A lockdown has been announced and there’s nothing in the shops. The seagulls are noisier than ever and I’m working nonstop. Still, spring is coming in full swing; she doesn’t know about the difficult time we’re having. I’m trying to slow down, meditate, smile, dance, laugh, create, and read. Everything will be okay.
The first, of what I imagine will be many, lockdown quizzes.
Slowly breaking down the barriers of feeling embarrassed about my body hair.
One of my service-users telling me that we have ‘professional chemistry’.
The fact that the conflict and controversy of modern living has appeared to temporarily soften as we – humanity – are faced with something that affects us all. Together is the only way forward.
Crying on the balcony whilst listening to Everybody’s Changing by Keane and watching the sunset.
Realising that not everything has to fit into two categories: not happy or sad, nor hot or cold. Things just flow. Recognising that the labels we give things are just socially constructed brings me peace.
My taxi driver on my ride to work. He said I had kind eyes and told me about his family, his life, and his origins in Yemen.
The storm last night. I was feeling melancholy and then the storm came, lightning struck, and as the weather calmed, so did my mood.
Two elderly buskers singing The Beatles’ songs in the street. First live music since Coronavirus.
30-50 feral seagulls outside a Burger King in Scotland.
Remembering that being sensitive comes along with being kind, patient, and appreciating the present moment.
Our petunia plant. She has really thrived in the rain and looks very happy. We’ve named her Petunia. Maybe we should have called her Perry to go with Larry the lavender, Barry the basil, and Gerry the geranium. Oh well. She’s not afraid to be different.
Learning about the Romans, the Catholics, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on holiday.
Being told that I am not in a strong enough place emotionally to do my intensive working master’s degree in social work and that I will have to defer until next year if I still want to do it. I’m grateful to have reacted in a positive way and go with the flow. There are positives to be found in another year of not knowing what I’m doing or where I’m going to live. Anything could happen.
Moving to Durham and moving out roughly two weeks later – what a funny load life gives you!
My lovely bedroom in my new house… my diffuser, incense, aromatherapy, soft sheets, and good vibes.
My boyfriend showing me around his new city. Seeing my friends on Halloween before the second lockdown. Asajj Ventress. Getting a new job as a teaching assistant and being a key worker. Thinking about a career in academic philosophy. A lot of change and growth and things to be grateful for.
My dog, Reuben, and his foxy face. Our walks in the park with the deer.
Starting to write a novel and believing I can do it.
2020 – the year everyone learned to sit peacefully (ish) with uncertainty.