A note on thanks
Sometimes the only way to see properly is with some gratitude
Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen starts not with friends Kay and Gerda, but with a wicked goblin.
The story goes that the evil goblin created a mirror that distorted everything reflected in it: what was good and beautiful shrank, what was merely ugly became vile.
If you go down to the woods today…
Delighted by his creation, the goblin flies across the world showing people how horrid they are and how bad everything is, before zooming up to the heavens to do the same to the angels. But he accidentally drops the mirror on the way, and it comes crashing to the Earth, thousands of goblin-glass shards flying into the eyes and hearts of the people below.
One of these lodges in Kay’s heart and turns it to ice, setting in motion Gerda’s journey to free him from the Snow Queen and melt the ice with love.
I loved Gerda’s travels in The Snow Queen, but the idea of the goblin glass has always fascinated me more.
You see, I had one of these shards in my eye for many years. On every white sheet, I saw a black dot; in a world of opportunity, I saw only cost. It was simply easier (and safer) to expect the worst, to say “no”, “not possible”, “the problem is…”.
As you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly the life of the party or the belle of the boardroom.
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly that goblin glass started melting, but I remember the feeling that started melting it.
I was on my therapist’s couch, a blubbering mess in the middle of an emotional breakthrough, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by a powerful flood of gratitude. Gratitude for grace, for a chance at something more, for the woman supporting me. It was as if curtains had been ripped open and warm sunlight was pouring over and through me, filling me, expanding me beyond the confines of my own puddle of poo feelings. It was, for all intents and purposes, a transcendental experience.
And then it was over, and I had to make my way through grinding traffic to get to a 9:30 meeting, eyes bloodshot and nose tissue-raw.
After that day, I came to see gratitude as a kind of emotional core muscle that I had to work out. Gratefulness was not a natural state of being for me. Sure, I said “thank you” and “you’re amazing”, but the deep appreciation of both the big and small things hadn’t quite penetrated my intellect as a powerful resource to draw on when my outlook on life started skewing to the negative.
There are multiple studies outlining how gratitude changes our lives for the better, gives us perspective, how it even changes our physiology. And there are multiple ways outlining how we can build this skill. One of my favourites is Robert Holden’s “one hundred gratitudes”, a journalling exercise to list a hundred things to be thankful for and why.
You’d be surprised how difficult it is to initially fill that list, until you realise how much we take for granted. Beyond the obvious, we’ve become so blasé about the wonders all around us. Privilege can make us blind to the gift of physical health and the miracle of modern medicine; it can make us overlook love or the technological wonder of a moving car, a flying plane, a computer in your hand…
I remember standing in St Mark’s Basilica a few years ago marvelling at the gilded domes of this Byzantine masterpiece only to hear behind me a couple complaining about their lunch, like some Catherine Tate skit come to life. It was painfully recognisable.
At sunset, Tom and I bought some wine and cheese and went to sit on a pier overlooking the Grand Canal. I tossed a coin into the water and made a wish to always find myself thankful.
Sometimes gratitude is easy. Sometimes it needs to be willed into existence to create some light in very dark times. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it comes over you like a blessing. Whichever form it takes, it is life changing.
It may have been love that melted that shard of goblin glass in Kay’s heart, but for me it was gratitude.
Then again, maybe they’re the same thing.
This column was first published in the July 2021issue of Woman&Home SA.
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Aah, I will really miss your W&H column! But it's their loss, and Substack's gain.
And thank you for this reminder to be grateful - have been trying to keep this practise up, even though it's through gritted teeth at the moment. xxx
Thank you, it's good to have them missed. And yes, bloody hell... things are pretty teeth-grittingly teeth-gritty at the mo. But looking forward to having a cuppa with you at the fair. (See? gratitude for the little things that are also the big things.)