#1 of 100 days of gratitude.
In October, aware that my usual bleak mid-winter mood would probably be darker during quarantine, I decided to post something I was grateful for, on my personal Facebook feed, every day for 100 days.
Then on day two, my extremely needy cat Amber, who was sitting in her usual place on my desk, watching my hands move across the keyboard and hoping for attention.
(This provoked the kind of storm you often get on social media, when someone who doesn’t know me or my cat suggested quite forcefully that I was obviously neglecting her, and should put her up for adoption immediately.)
If possible, I also decided to post a picture, and write a few sentences on why I was grateful.
I wanted to really feel it, not just say it.
I knew that it would be all about celebrating the small, everyday things that made life feel joyful, even in lockdown. Because the big stuff we usually take for granted — the parties, the holidays, the events and social gatherings — were no longer an option in quarantine.
So I posted pictures of books I was reading, stills from The Queens Gambit, Schitt’s Creek and other shows I was enjoying, details from walks along the beach and through the beautiful English countryside that surrounds my little coastal town.
I celebrated the flowers in my study, meals cooked by my husband or son, my writing and book groups, virtual talks and workshops. (There were an awful lot of screen shots from Zoom.) In November, I also confessed to crying when earnest young Peter won Bake Off. (What can I say? This has been a tough year..).
I also recorded momentous events such as my sole meal in a restaurant with friends, during a brief period in October when such things felt possible, perhaps even sensible. Also a rare train trip to London — a journey that was routine for me, before the pandemic, when you’d sit unmasked next to a stranger and your only worry was whether they’d make loud phone calls or invade your personal space
Mainly I was thankful for quiet, simple pleasures.
The winter lettuce seeds sprouting in our greenhouse, the smell of roast chicken or a soup stock bubbling on the stove, a hot chocolate or gin & tonic after dinner, putting on my tatty but toasty old Ugg boots for the first time that winter.
Knowing I had to post about something every day made me notice these everyday pleasures, and appreciate them more.
By December 19, I was looking forward to seeing my mum, who lives 200 miles away. She usually comes to stay with us regularly, but the pandemic meant I’d only been able to see her once, briefly, not long after she came out of hospital after being desperately ill with Covid.
We were looking forward to fetching her to spend the holidays with us, and although the infection rates were looking pretty grim, our Prime Minister repeatedly insisted that families would be able to spend time together, accusing anyone who urged caution of being a killjoy who wanted to “cancel Christmas”.
Then, of course, that was exactly what he did.
On the night of December 19, just as we’d finished packing the car for an early start the next morning, the government suddenly announced new restrictions that meant we could no longer go as planned. We could probably still have fetched mum. But she needs regular medical care now, and it wasn’t at all certain we’d be able to get her home again in time for her vaccine appointment in early January.
By then, she was packed and ready to go. She’d cancelled her carers. She had no fresh food in. And it was too late for me to post her presents, or even arrange a supermarket delivery.
It was heart-breaking, but through gritted teeth on Facebook that night, I tried to find the good in the situation. It was a daft thing to do. Not a word of my ‘gratitude’ was authentic or true. On twitter, however, I let loose a howl of fury and frustration.
Then something wonderful happened.
People started to retweet what I’d written, and it went viral. One of mum’s local MPs, the wonderful Jess Phillips, offered to drop over some shopping for her. Old schoolmates I hadn’t seen in decades invited her to share their Christmas dinner. Complete strangers messaged with offers of help, along with church groups, mosques and temples. Radio and TV stations called, and I even wrote about it in The Times.
In the end, mum wasn’t alone for the holidays. The kind and hard-working carers quickly added her back into their schedule and my brother was able to change his family’s plans.
But it taught me that sometimes, gratitude is nothing but a platitude. There are times when sharing your pain and anger can be cathartic, and useful. And there’s no point pretending all is well when what you really need is help.
So in January, I missed out a few days of gratitude here and there. Days when I was tired, and felt I had nothing joyful to share. And days when I was just so busy that I had little else to post, but it felt wrong to keep saying how grateful I was for having so much work when many of my friends were struggling.
There were some huge wins.
My mum got the vaccine. Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States. His predecessor was barred from twitter. These three events lifted a huge weight I didn’t even know I’d been carrying, until it was gone. Whatever your politics, I hope you too will soon feel the relief of knowing your most vulnerable loved ones are safer, and protected. We’ve all carried far too much fear, in the past year.
So I spent the final posts celebrating the first daffodils pushing up through the soil, winter sunlight glinting on the river Stour, the nights getting gradually lighter. There were days when I went out for a walk, simply to find something to feel grateful for. I never once regretted going out, and taking time to look around me.
There were also days when the weather was awful and I sheltered inside, grateful for a warm house, a comfortable bed, central heating, blankets and books. All luxuries that we often take for granted, but that many still lack.
#100 of 100 days of gratitude.
I’ll continue my gratitude practice in my morning pages, but today I shared it for the last time on my Facebook feed. I posted my thanks to my friends, who kept me going through the 100 days with their comments and encouragement, and shared gratitude of their own.
What I’ve learned, over the past 100 days, is that gratitude, when deeply felt, can be a superpower. It helps us notice and appreciate all that we have, to stop the victim stories that we can sometimes repeat, on a loop, in our minds. It helps us see and appreciate the beauty around us.
Even now, during this awful pandemic, we live on a wondrous planet full of beauty and magic. We just have to decide to look, and take a moment to appreciate this. Try it — I found it really helpful.
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Want to grow your creative business? Click to get my free 10-day course.