The Gift of Gratitude

I remember learning about gratitude during a conversation with Ben, my wisest friend when it comes to learning about life. It was a couple of years into the new millennium and after a weekend of partying we’d prepare to return to the real world by chatting about the coming week.

He asked, “What’s in store for you, Buddy?”

“Tuesday, I’m having a cinema evening with Mum. We meet in town, have something to eat, catch up together and go watch a movie. We choose sappy chick-flicks, period dramas or the latest Harry Potter.”

“You’re a lucky man, Martin,” he said. 

His simple reply irrevocably changed my perception for the better. His Mum had died from cancer two years before we had met and his life had been turned upside down, sky-rocketing his responsibilities into midlife adulthood. 

I’ve never told him how many times I come back to this conversation and how important it’s been in my understanding of gratitude. I never take for granted how lucky I am – to have both of my parents, our strong relationship together and their wonderfully good health. A feeling that is exemplified when I witness the grievance of others around me who aren’t so fortunate.

When I look through my list of friends on Facebook, I’m acutely aware that dozens of them (I’ve just counted) in my close proximity have lost parents, family members or close friends in recent years, and I want them to know that I think about them all. I ask myself if there’s anything that I could do to strengthen my integrity for altruism in this matter. I’ve learned that neither pity nor sympathy would hold any value. What’s important is when I look at my parents and when I’m sharing experiences with them, that I’m truly grateful. That’s what they need to know and see in me. 

Today is Father’s Day and like most Fathers, mine isn’t the easiest person to buy a gift for. What does a son buy his Dad who has everything (and therefore doesn’t need anything!)? I try to think of something original, then kick-start my creative talents and conjure up something quirky for him. Two weeks ago I mailed a double CD-compilation of my favourite powerful and emotive classical-music tracks, complete with a designed cover sleeve, which I’m sure he’ll enjoy. Next time I’m home we’ll discuss which ones resonate with us both and the special meaning that each track holds in order for it to have been selected.

My parents. My family. My friends. My job. My health. My security. I’m grateful for it all and I practise gratitude every day, with parents and family topics bubbling up to the surface more so than others. I’ve cultivated this deep sense of gratitude and realised that one shouldn’t skip over the little things that others would hold with high regard. The smells of home cooking. The view of the immaculately kept garden. The crazily written, half-coded SMS messages. The discourse we have on current events and past family holidays. Our meals out and cinema evenings. Believing that both the ups and the downs are of equal value, because for every dark moment of my life, there’s always a positive lesson to be learned; the majority of which computed in my head after sharing with my parents and thus, concluded that parents are always right.

I’m conscious that I live far from home, but I know my parents want me to live my life wholeheartedly. If courage is my value (which it is, as courage means to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart), then I have to be where I am here on the continent, constantly on the move and finding new places. I send messages every couple of days, we Skype once a week and I travel home every 2 months for a visit, a hug and a slice of cake. During that time I open my heart as wide as I can by listening and sharing endlessly, selflessly and unconditionally (even if I’ve heard their stories before).

Thirty years ago, the conversation would have been the same, but structured differently.

“What have you done at school today?” they would ask.

“Not much,” or “Nothing,” would have been my empty reply.

Our loved ones around us are still hungry for stories of where our journey is taking us and what we’re doing in order to help us get there. If there’s a story in my head, then it’s the least I can do to share it with my parents as a small pittance for all the help and support they’ve given me. Help and support, which they have given me endlessly, selflessly and unconditionally. I want to feel confident that if everything was taken away from me tomorrow, I would step back from what would be a deeply painful experience and say, “Thank you. Thank you for the time I have had, for which I have been and always will be, eternally grateful.”

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

Next: How to get more buy-in for Service Design (as an in-house designer)

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