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It has become a hugely popular concept in positive psychology and self-help, but is feeling grateful really a panacea? One writer sets aside her scepticism and opens up her gratitude journal

A memory came to mind recently of opening presents after my seventh or eighth birthday party – the thrill of the smooth, sharp-edged wrapping paper as I ripped it open, the breathless discovery of the gift concealed within. I also remember the many dull hours in the days that followed, writing thank-you letter after thank-you letter to grandparents, aunties, neighbours and friends, my mother sitting beside me, addressing the envelopes.

This could be why the notion of formalised, prescribed and premeditated gratitude, which in the past decade has become the darling of positive psychology and the self-help movement, tends to stick in my craw. So, too, the piles of gratitude journals displayed in gift shops among other tat, bespattered with cheesy quotations at jaunty angles: overcompensatingly “inspirational” gifts for uninspired givers on a deadline. Even hearing the word “gratitude” makes my shoulders tense and my eyes narrow. I am too cynical to get on board this particular Oprah bandwagon – too British, too atheist, too sensitive to schmaltz.

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