Gratitude

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You know those days when everything seems to go wrong? Well, it is only 9am and it is one of those days. The problems have piled up like dirty laundry. Oh, and the washing machine has broken. The floor is flooded and the dog has decided it’s really good fun so there are muddy footprints all the way up and down the stairs, which happen to have just been covered with a beautiful new carpet.

Not that I’ve got a dog, but, you know, if I did have one, the carpet would be ruined and, although the washing machine is working perfectly, I know that if it was broken, the guarantee would have run out and the repair man would be on holiday.

So I am just doomed. Everything is a disaster.

The real problem with days like this is that even those things that are perfectly fine when I’m halfway sane, take on the magnitude of a catastrophe. Let’s not bother with tragedy. I’m on a bypass to full meltdown, bouncing off walls like a demented parrot that thinks a door is a window and I’m squawking just as loudly.

The sweet, gentle Indian man who is just doing his job for BT, said, with some alarm, “Miss Brampton, please don’t cry.” That’s when I realised it was time to slam on the brakes. Crying over a broadband connection? Oh, for goodness sake.

I have broadband. I can afford a broadband connection and the newspaper I work for is not going to close down overnight because I’m half an hour late on a deadline. Amazingly, I am not that important even if, right now, I think I’m the most important person in the world and the universe simply cannot continue without me.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Time to practise some gratitude which might sound as if I’m going to turn into Pollyanna, pink gingham, blonde curls and all, until you consider that solid scientific research shows that gratitude is the fastest way to emotional equilibrium. People who practise it are happier, more confident and less inclined to be blighted by anxiety and stress. When you can’t sleep, count your blessings, not sheep.

Or, better still, write them down. The simple act of putting pen to paper fixes contentment in our minds in the way that passing thoughts never can. And they are a very good reference to look back on when times get difficult.

Of course, false gratitude is hopeless. “It could have been worse.” Well, it could but, really, that’s not the point and is a bit like telling a toddler who won’t eat his greens that people are starving in India. That’s not his immediate problem. Spinach is. His gratitude would be immense if the wretched stuff simply disappeared off his plate without people dying.

Who are those people in India anyway? Oh, no! I’ve killed them. I’m a bad person. It’s a bad, bad world.

Everything can be worse if we make it so. We are naturally hardwired to tune into a negative frequency. Evolutionary behaviour has us at its mercy, simply for survival. Not much use staring at a sabre toothed tiger and thinking, “Hmmm, it could be worse.” Not unless you want to be dinner with a side order of fries.

So here we are, trapped in the mind of a dinosaur, that ancient reptilian part of the brain that swishes its horned tail at the mere whiff of danger. It may be terribly useful when we are confronted by a speeding car but it’s pretty hopeless when it comes to contentment.

So, the mind needs a bit of training to think and behave nicely and one of those ways (the best according to neuroscientists) is to calm it with soothing thoughts. Like any other form of training, the more it is practised the better the results.

Those soothing thoughts, or gratitude, needn’t be huge. In some ways, the more ordinary the detail, the better. A man gave up his seat on the bus. A stranger smiled at me today. I saw the first primroses of spring.

So, sod the BT mammoth. I’m not going to give it a second chance to kill my happiness stone dead. I’m going to remember that I’m having dinner with one of my closest friends tonight. The one who makes me laugh so hard, that all is fine with the world. And I’m going to write that down. You’ve got a friend and one who loves you to pieces, all of them good.

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