How often do you say thank you - to others, to yourself, to your community?

Saying "thank you" is the social glue to so many of our everyday actions, whether we realise it or not. Despite this, many of us struggle to say it. 

Presenter Louise McSharry highlighted this habit on her Instagram Story recently, remarking how proud she was of getting better at saying thank you. 

This week, an interactive art installation aimed to bring gratitude to the streets of Dublin, as a large pink chalk board wall was erected outside The Bernard Shaw inviting passers-by to share what they are grateful for. 

A collaboration between Collective Dublin and H&G Creations, the striking initiative was designed to "open up the conversation about mental health through the idea of cultivating practices like gratitude, loving kindness, self talk and mindfulness to help our community develop a tool kit for mental self care". 

We caught up with Sinéad Bailey Kelly of H&G Creations, who shared how The Gratitude Wall has affected people, how she brings gratitude into her life and what kind of messages have been left so far. 

What was the motivation behind it?

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The motivation was to open up a conversation within our community about mental health and, like any ailment, prevention is the best cure. We wanted to know how we could come together to give back to our community, but we also wanted to give something that would be more then just a fleeting thought. We wanted to give a tool kit with practical exercises on how we collectively can cultivate self-care.

What was the thinking behind the design of it? 

This is a giant pink chalk board wall. Pink is a bold statement colour sure to catch the attention of passers-by, and also the universal colour of love.

We didn't just want to ask a question and nothing else, though. We wanted to prompt people to interact with the wall, while also sharing some valuable information and facts behind why the public should engage with the wall. We included a who, what, where, why, when [graphic] to encourage the public to stop, read and then interact. 

What is the importance of gratitude? What kind of effect do you believe it can have on us?

Gratitude is consciously being thankful and/or showing appreciation. We find ourselves falling into complacency as we are fortunate enough to be living in a safe country with access to food and water, shelter, education and with many basic needs being met.

When things aren't going our way in our day-to-day, it can become very easy to take these basic but very crucial things for granted, these are only just a few examples. But why is gratitude important? Because it shifts your focus. Immediately it will make you feel happier and over time it has the potential to improve the quality of your life.

Are we grateful as a nation/generation?

As a nation or a generation, there a lot of things that are more readily available or easy to attain then generations past. The world is being transformed by technology, it's easier now then ever to see the world, the average life span and quality of life is improving.

But I do think as a Western society we are so obsessed with going faster, doing more, setting goals. I think collectively we are conditioned to focus on the lack, when there is abundance everywhere.

The more we see how much we really have in the small things and focus on that, the more and more abundance will surround us. 

What is the scientific backing to this, and the 21 days to gratitude study? 

The inspiration for the wall came from Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. He's a speaker and advocate for positive psychology. He says that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit, and by practicing gratitude for 21 days you will get into the habit of continued practice. By listing off three things you're thankful for or by journaling about one positive experience you had that day, you can change your thought process. 

Do you believe we can change from pessimist to optimist?

Shawn Achor believes that we can, with the practice of being thankful and focusing on positive experiences that over time you can change a pessimist into a low-level optimist. I would love to trial this on a group of people and see what the outcomes are, but I do think its possible. Anything is possible!

Should we aim for one over the other, or try to find a balance?

That's a tough question. I think naturally people veer towards being pessimist. It's kind of the Irish way though as well, self-deprecating humour and sarcasm usually poke fun from a pessimists outlook? I might be wrong here this is just my observation. I often find myself counter acting my inner pessimist with my inner optimist and I feel like it's led me on an exciting journey of expecting the best, and spreading the love on the way. Life is all about balance though no?

Have there been memorable messages left so far?

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Oh, yes, of course! It's nice to see how sweet and honest people have been with it. Lots of people happy to be alive, for their soul mates, families, homes. We did expect a few messers and the public certainly delivered, but I suppose they must be showing their gratitude for the "D" and sure, we can't blame them!

It's a chalk board, so do the messages wash off? Does this hold any significance for the project? 

Yes, so it is a chalk board - it's hard to believe you can get hot pink chalk board paint! People have gotten really "artistic" and it's turned into a giant doodle at the moment, but we always encourage all forms of expression, so that's nice to see, too.

But looking forward to a good shower to clean it off and start fresh. I suppose what you could take away from it is that every day is a clean slate to start your journey to positivity. 

How do you practice being grateful without an art installation?

I've a small journal next to my bed, and everyday I write down three positive affirmations, anything that might feel relevant to me in the moment or that I would like to repeat over the course of the day to encourage love, forgiveness, confidence, compassion.

Then I write down three things i want to visualise. One would be something I want to come into my life, one would be something I want to come into someone else's life that I know and one would be a something good I want to visualize coming to my community or the world. Then I write three things I'm grateful for, I read over everything and imagine everything and feel everything on the list that day with intention for about two minutes.

It could be as simple as writing something you're grateful for every day on your phone in your notes on your way to work or when you get home or on your lunch break. Keep it simple then you more likely to keep it going.