Just say it
By Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Staff Writer GULF NEWS Published: December 28, 2007,
They are two simple little words – thank you – but put together, with complete sincerity, they are so powerful that they can change lives, situations, even the future. With 2008 around the corner, how about getting some attitude – of gratitude?
A fortnight ago, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at a resort in Umm Al Quwain. Thanks to the kids and their activities the day’s schedule was hectic and by late evening, almost all the adults were tired and those who could stay awake were relaxing by the pool.
I decided to go for a stroll on the beach to take in the cool breeze and reflect on the activities of the day.
I chose a nice spot on the beach and sat down to watch the sunset. The colours that lit up the sky were simply breathtaking. Tracers of pink and swatches of purples lay in artless abandon on a backdrop of bleeding crimson … I wished I had taken along a camera but my mind’s eye
came in handy.
Slowly, the colours bleached as though the sky had been sprayed with a giant hose of a decolorant and scraps of greys and faded pinks clung on as the backdrop paled into slate.
Soon night swept in draped a voluminous black cloak and in a swish revealed the crystal work of stars. It was pure theatre and I was watching it free of charge.
The breeze soon picked up so I decided to resume my walk. The sand was cool under my feet, the sea like a vast spill of ebony ink and the moon hung almost full as though held at that spot by an invisible puppeteer’s hand. Nature was putting on another spectacular show. Once again, free of charge.
The only sound was the lapping of the waves. I was sure that if I concentrated hard enough, I would be able to hear the beat of my heart.
And that’s when a familiar but not-so-regular emotion washed over me – the feeling of absolute gratitude for the moment. The sheer beauty of nature that was all around me, giving me everything and asking for nothing in return, except to be in the moment.
I felt blessed for having the chance to be a part of that night.
Back in my room, the calming experience I had just enjoyed kept returning to my mind and set me thinking: would it sound silly if I thanked Life for the evening? After all, how many such evenings had I experienced in the recent past? In fact, when was the last time I was overcome with gratitude for the free abundance of so many things life offers me every day, every week?
I thought of the way we say ‘Thank you’. It is specifically for something we have received or in general for nothing really; just politesse, because it’s so easy to say it without really thinking about it.
And to me that was like a thorn in the flesh. Did I really think through my expressions of gratitude?
Were they simply reflexive responses or had I said some ‘Thank yous’ that were as deeply felt as other emotions like the anger when someone cuts you off on the highway or jumps the queue with impunity or arrogance when someone does not return your call? It’s so easy to feel some emotions so strongly.
You know the ones I mean. But what about a ‘thank you’?
Quite often, we seem to miss the wood for the trees. We expect a lot of things to be the way they are and forget to acknowledge the fact that someone, somewhere, known or unknown, is responsible for making it easy for us.
We take things for granted to the extent that when we wake up, the coffee should be brewing and the croissant shining with a buttery glaze. And warm. Better still, served to you on a plate with a monogrammed napkin tucked in by its side.
You think I am going too far?
Well, I have the right to pontificate on my life and I don’t think I am not guilty of that charge. Quite often I fail to see the silver lining in the clouds and focus instead on the grey … and grumble and groan and whine about it all.
Cicero, the Roman philosopher, got it right: “Gratitude is not only the greatest virtue but the parent of all others.”
New-age psychologists believe that more than anything else, a feeling of gratitude for all the things we enjoy in life can fill us with happiness.
When you count your blessings, you actually tend to discount the inconveniences in life. You tend to grumble less, feel less stressed out and thus produce less stress hormones in your system.
Fewer negative thoughts mean your mind is free … to think of more and better ways to improve your state.
It’s called positive psychology, says Dubai-based clinical psychologist Maya Selisel Sidani.
Till recently, psychology was focused on the treatment of a particular mental ailment. It essentially meant taking a patient who was in, let’s say, a ‘minus 5’ state of mind to a condition where he/she became normal or achieved a state of mind termed zero.
But positive psychology does not involve any treatment procedures as such. It examines the individual’s
state of mind and focuses on lifting his/her mood from, for instance, zero to plus five.
“Gratitude definitely affects our sense of happiness,” says Sidani. She quotes the theory put forward by American Psychology Association president Martin Selignan who explains how gratitude impacts our sense of happiness.
According to Selignan there are three components
A pleasant focus on things that give us pleasure – such as listening to beautiful music, watching a play, enjoying a dinner … basically activities that provide us direct sensory pleasure.
Engagement: This is about the depth of our involvement and commitment to relationships such as (with) our spouse, family, romance, hobbies. When we do things with passion and are involved in these, there |is a natural sense of fulfillment and happiness.
The meaning of life: Doing things that give a larger, greater meaning to life such as using (your efforts) to serve a larger social end.
According to Sidani, the last category is the one that deals with feeling a sense of gratitude … by trying to find meaning to life through doing noble deeds, participating in charity drives, etc.
So, how important is it be grateful for small things in life? Does it take a life-changing experience to make people realise the value of expressing gratitude? In what way can a person express gratitude?
To find out, Friday met a few people:
A humbling experience
Brian Senelwa’s life changed for ever when he learnt that he had lost his first child, a baby boy. “That’s the time I realised how fragile life is,” says the export manager in
a Dubai FMCG company.
“The experience (I underwent) was humbling. It made me appreciate and be grateful for (everything),” he says.
Senelwa, who hails from Kenya and has two children, Christina (5) and Antony (2), is keen to instill the value
of gratitude in his children as they grow up.
“I believe in the power of gratitude. I once read a book called The Attitude to Gratitude, which pointed out the importance of appreciating what one has in life.
“Of late, with the kind of mechanical lifestyles (we lead), we are rushing through the day and I think I have forgotten to thank God for the beautiful and important things he has given me.
“When I watch television – the tragedies, the violence, pestilence, murders – I feel fortunate to be in Dubai. Of course I have had my share of ups and downs in life, many financial and personal problems, but I am thankful to God for having given me some friends who have stood by me and given me the strength to bear it all.”
Senelwa, who had a very tough childhood in Kenya, is all praise for his mother for having instilled in him the right attitude to gratitude.
“My mother, Margaret, was a source my inspiration. She brought up my sister and me single-handedly after my father passed away (I was nine years old at the time). We lived frugally, but she taught me humility and an appreciation for what we had in life.
“Eight things I will always be grateful for and thank God for…
My health and well-being.
To be surrounded by friends.
The beauty of nature. I often travel to Hatta and Oman and am awestruck by the beauty of the desert.
My job. I love doing what I do.
For having hope. I have always looked forward to better things.
Second chances in life. Very often we commit mistakes and I am grateful I have been given a second chance to improve on them and redeem myself.
For every new morning in my life.
I had a near fatal accident in Kenya, but escaped unhurt!
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Shemsah Musabih, an accredited Life Coach, specialising in relationships, says: “People sometimes focus on bad times and forget the pleasant and positive things in their lives. I truly believe a sense of gratitude ignites positive feelings in you.”
She has experienced many things in her life that fill her with a very positive feeling.
“I was born in USA but spent most of my life in the UAE. One of the strongest memories I have of my childhood is of my mother showing pictures of starving children to my brothers and me whenever we refused our food. She used to remind us of what they didn’t have and all the things that we had to be grateful for.
“My father always reminded us to thank God whenever we saw people who were suffering, sick, or poor and for us not being that way.
“We also grew up being told that there’s a blessing and wisdom behind everything that we go through – the good and the bad. We may not understand it now, but someday, when we look back upon our lives, we will realise the truth.
“I believe that we get what we deserve and we have to earn what we want in life. The only way we can prove that we will be grateful for the things we want and won’t take them for granted, is by being grateful for the things that we have.
“By being grateful, we realise that we have so many reasons to celebrate and share happiness. It puts life into perspective and keeps us going.”
One of the fondest memories she has of childhood is of spending a summer with her father in London.
“It was just him and I. I felt very close to him and he made me feel very special. We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. We went shopping, to the park and simply hung out together.
“I’ve spoken about it so many times, however, now that I think about it I never actually thanked him, so I’d like to take this opportunity to say “Thank you Baba for making me feel special”.
Shemsah’s lists things she is grateful for:
The family that I grew up in. (That experience moulded me into who I am today).
My husband and son (my inspirations and support).
My friends and relationships (my balance in life).
My health and beauty.
My experience through postpartum depression (It taught me to be more compassionate and grateful. I am a better woman, wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, and citizen because of it).
My knowledge and Islam (My empowerment).
Being half American and half Emirati (I got the best of both worlds).
My safety and security (I’m grateful that I’m living in a
place like Dubai).
My time (I am grateful for each day that I am able to wake up and do the things that I want to do and share my time with the people that I love).
My food, clothes, house, wealth and nannies (I am grateful for not having the stress of not knowing where I am going to sleep tonight, or how I am going to get my next meal).
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Lillian Yordi has wonderful memories of a warm Venezuelan home filled with family that makes her so full of gratitude for all the nice times she had. I crib about things and I think it is human nature to do so.
But I (am always brought back to reality) when I see things around me and I realise how lucky I am to be alive; that makes me reflect and to be grateful just for being healthy and happy.
“I am happy when I am surrounded by my family, friends and people that I care about and love. I thank God for all the beautiful things in my life – my kids, my husband and family.
Zordi recalls the happy memories of Christmas: “I can remember how every year my mother would purchase all the ingredients and then gather all of us around to begin preparing and making ‘Hallacas’ (a Venezuelan dish for Christmas) and special desserts, treats and decorations.
“She had a magic touch that made our lives special. I don’t recall saying ‘thank you’ to her but I carry that feeling of gratitude in my heart and I share it with my kids. I hope to follow my mother’s example by making my children’s lives special.”