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2014 Grateful 52

Two years into my weekly grateful blogs, I’ve decided it’s worth doing for yet another 52 weeks. We have so much in life to be grateful for and we don’t take nearly enough time to express that gratitude, be it to ourselves, to our families, to our friends, to our colleagues, or to our God. Even perfect strangers could do with a little thanks.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that this apparently lack of gratefulness stems not from any innate sense of ingratitude but is more to do with what we perceive as a lack of time. We’re simply too busy doing, thinking, and planning to pause for the few seconds it takes to verbalise that gratitude, or write that email, or send that text, or make that phone call. Who amongst us wouldn’t appreciate a Thank You card  every now and then for something we’ve done. Okay, so many of us would probably pooh pooh it, with an ‘ah schucks, it was nothing’ but the recognition would stick regardless and might even prompt us to do something nice again, sooner than we might otherwise have done.

There is nothing worse that being thanked with cards and presents for every little thing we do… to me, that’s the same as a constant ‘I love you’… when we hear it so often, it tends to lose its meaning. And yes, there’s a fine line between too often and not often enough but I’m sure that more scientific minds than mine could come up with an equation that would quickly sort that out. Good manners though would dictate that a courteous ‘thank you’ be a habit, right alongside its sister ‘please’.

Gratitude should be mindful. And the magic of being grateful for the little things in life is that it does work – it makes the world a better place – it’s made my world a better place these past couple of years. Think pebble, pond, ripple effect.

Our actions speak volumes for who we are. People notice. And if they like what they see, they imitate. Likewise, the thoughts we express also reflect who we are. We can never know when a throwaway comment can ruin us or make us or worse still, ruin or make an innocent third party. I know I’ve lost a few friends and acquaintances over comments I’ve made that have been repeated out of context and indeed misunderstood in context – and that’s all part and parcel of living. But if the string we use to wrap our lives is one coated in sincerity and honesty and good intentions, then how much better the world might be.

If we start with being grateful for the little things, then better things start to happen and pretty soon we find we’re being grateful for big things, too. We begin to reshape our world by actively engaging with it. Life is a choice. We can choose how we react to gossip, to bad news, to the opinions of others. We can choose to get even or to let go. We can choose to forgive and try to forget or to bear a grudge and let it eat away inside us. We can choose to be grateful or to take for granted all that life can offer.

Each night, I try to think of ten things that I’m grateful for that happened today. It’s better than counting sheep. Often I don’t make it to No. 5. Or get sidetracked on No. 2. It’s usually silly stuff like the tram coming just as I arrived at the stop, or the first shop I went to having the one ingredient I needed, or noticing that the bath was about to run over before the first drop of water spilled on to the floor. This has developed into a conscious habit that has made me a lot more aware of what’s happening in the world around me and a lot more engaged with my life and how I choose to live it.

My challenge to you for 2014 is to express that gratitude. If someone has made a difference or is making a difference in your life, tell them. If you get good service, acknowledge it. If someone holds open the door for you, say thanks before walking through it. Being grateful costs nothing, but to put a value on gratitude is nigh on impossible.

As the first week of the New Year draws to a close, I’m grateful that I got to spend so much of it walking beaches, in the freezing cold, getting soaked by waves. I’m grateful for feeling so alive.

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2013 Grateful 22

I have always wanted to live on the water, by the sea, near the coast. My dream is to live on a small island with its own private beach. An oasis of cool in the summer and a wild, raging cacophony of sound in the winter, as waves crash against the shore and gale-force winds serve as sharp reminders of the fragility of life. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Yes, I know… it leaves one big question hanging out there … why did I ever move to Budapest?

IMG_6742 (800x590) (800x590)While Oslofjord technically isn’t a fjord in the geological sense, its accessibility and proximity to the city makes it a little bit of heaven on earth. If you’ve seen Edvard Munch’s The Scream or Girls on the pier, then you’ve had a taste of what it looks like. Boats travel regularly to the islands from a city where using a boat is as common as using the bus or the tram or the metro and all are covered by the one travel pass. It’s usual practice to pack a swimsuit, food, and a disposable BBQ and head out after work – it doesn’t get dark until about 10 so there’s three good hours to replenish the spirit and replace the calm desiccated by corporate living.

IMG_6718 (800x595)IMG_6653 (800x600)The islands in this inlet, those that I can remember, each have their own claim to fame.  Hovedøya has its monastery ruins and during WWII was home to an internment camp for female Nazi collaborators. Gressholmen apparently has its rabbits. Mind you, we spent an evening at Gressholmen and didn’t see one rabbit so I can’t vouch for its claim to fame. The islands of Nakholmen, Bleikøya, and Lindøya have their cabins while Langøyene has the best beach and camping facilities.

IMG_6683 (800x600)IMG_6694 (800x600)The boat ride might have taken all of 20 minutes, if that. And then it took another 15 to walk across the island to a secluded spot on the water’s edge. Those who arrived with us didn’t stay as long so we had the place to ourselves for most of the time. The water was glorious. Cold and clear. A tad rocky but beautiful. I was in my element.

While the salmon skewers sizzled on the BBQ and the Aperol spritz worked its decompressive magic, the only thing breaking the silence was the sound of the seagulls. We watched as they dove for fish, stole sausages, and argued amongst themselves about who had the best whatever. I love the sound they make and have often wondered whether I could get a soundtrack with nothing other than the sound of waves and gulls and if by playing it each evening I could bring the sea closer to home.

IMG_6666 (800x600)In a world where technology increasingly raises the bar when it comes to entertainment, where our attention spans grow shorter by the upgrade, where our ability to sit still and do nothing is challenged by lengthening to-do lists and an increasing sense of time running out, it was simply glorious to sit in silence and just be.

This week, as I near the end of another birth year, I am grateful for the opportunity to recalibrate, to regain my sense of perspective, to feast on fresh salmon and shrimp in good company and spectacular scenery.  I am particularly grateful for those people who seem to randomly drop into my life just when I need them the most.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52