What’s that weird landscape above? That would be my first fully completed ‘Gratitude Garden’. A hallucinogenic visual record of the number of times I’ve logged my appreciation for things big and small, since starting this course nearly 2 months ago.
It’s also a record of a habit I never thought I would build. Gratitude journaling isn’t new to me – but, like so many well-being habits, I’ve never found the process pleasing enough to stick with it. ‘Gratitude must be for people with more personal discipline’, I thought…
Like the Panda from Kung-Fu Panda, it turns out the power was in me all along – and all I needed was this janky journaling app to help me unlock it.
So what is it about Gratitude Garden – an app with 10 reviews on the App Store (making it possibly the most obscure app I’ve ever had on my phone) – that has made it stick to me where others have fallen off?
It’s definitely not a very well-designed app, in the conventional sense. It certainly hasn’t had the UX testing of the likes of Headspace and Balance. In fact, there are plenty of things about it that don’t make sense at all.
For example, when you complete your daily gratitude journaling (consisting of 3 entries), you get 52 points – nice! – which you then spend on things to add to your garden; choosing from a selection of fairly random animals and fungi. Which all sounds great… Except nothing actually costs 52 points – or 104, or 156. Things cost 100 points, or 200 points, or, for some reason, 149. This means you’re constantly left with spare change and points you could never hope to spend.
And then there’s the garden itself. When you’ve finally saved up enough to buy yourself a large polar-bear-sheep-thing or a nice patch of purple mushrooms, you have no say whatsoever in their placement in the garden. The mushrooms may end up atop a hill in the distance; the bear-sheep meanwhile, lives at the top of the nearest tree.
And although you have to accept their placement in the garden as final, you can both rotate them and make them bigger.
I suspect no one is sure.
So how and why exactly is it a good app? How – despite the immense frustration I regularly feel at not being able to put my sheep-bear, which I paid for, on the floor of MY goddam garden – have I come to use this thing almost daily?
Well, there are a couple of things Gratitude Garden does really well.
For one, I think it’s the most aesthetically beautiful app on my phone – and I would challenge any other app to appeal to my visual tastes better.
In place of infinitely pixel-perfect lines and that distinctly clean ‘App Store’ look – adopted near-universally by all Apple phone widgets – is a sort of eccentric painterly demeanour that wouldn’t look out of place at a psytrance festival. Despite the lines blurring when you zoom in, and the whole thing looking like it could have been made on Microsoft Paint, the overall guise really stands out against its competitors.
It’s also wonderfully simple. Gone are the slick overly-intuitive design features of its contemporaries and, in their place, is something more monosyllabic, but also somehow more human. I think it feels almost analogue; as if they’ve replaced a set of digitally synthesised bells and whistles, with real church bells and an ocarina.
Your rewards are humble and undeniably silly – and arrive with a maddening infrequency – but that almost makes you more grateful to receive them. Just like life, there’s a distinct lack of sense or linear thinking to the process. And that’s refreshing. Too often apps are too eager to please; keeping themselves in our lives by ensuring the dopamine hits come thicker and faster than their rivals. (I imagine the people who design them see little to no substantial difference between human beings and hungry-hungry hippos, the buttons of which are being mashed by a frothing toddler with an IV drip of Mountain Dew in their arm).
And, really, I think this is why I like it so much.
Rather than coerce your attention from you by pushing your most primal buttons, Gratitude Garden simply and innocently asks you for it, person to person – a bit like a 5-year-old asking to look at their glitter macaroni painting. Yes, it’s shit. But it’s also curious, playful and wonderfully optimistic. It feels like the creators, whoever they are, tapped into exactly the sort of playful child state we are aiming for every day at the school. It feels like, despite being an app, it was created without the constricts of functionality and mass-appeal – which is both completely the wrong way to go about it, but also, perhaps, exactly the right way.
I’m grateful to the SCA for many things – for countless nuggets of genuinely useful wisdom I never would have encountered otherwise; for its inspiring roster of guest speakers and incredible faculty lectures; and for how much effort has clearly been put into the thing over the years (the right to shout about being number 1 seems well and truly earned from where I’m sat).
But for introducing me to my favourite app in the world, and in doing so, showing me that I can build well-being habits, I think I’m perhaps more grateful than anything.