By Luke Rix-Standing, PA
FOR several weeks now, Angela Scanlon has been sharing three things she’s grateful for at regular intervals on her Instagram. One day it was comfy socks, FaceTime, and her neighbour’s cheese pastries. The next it was homemade chips, chatting with a friend in Madrid, and sunlight on her kitchen wall.
When I speak to her, living room to living room in the midst of national lockdown, it’s the lozenges in her bag, a decadent breakfast, and the feel of fresh sheets. ‘I really like the micro ones,” says Scanlon, “you’re supposed to be thankful for these monumental, life-changing moments, but the truth is, the small moments are what life is all about.’
We’re discussing her podcast Thanks A Million, now entering its second series, a positivity pod picking the brains of the good, the great, and the grateful, to find out what they’re thankful for in their everyday lives.
For Scanlon, from Dublin, gratitude is not a nod to services rendered, but a fundamental tool of wellbeing. She used to write a column about trying out traditional therapies – ‘gong baths, singing bowls, you name it’ – and found that simple, everyday gratitude was the self-care catch-all she kept coming back to.
Its exact anatomy is probably one for the psychologists, but Scanlon finds that gratitude puts things in perspective. ‘It’s about focusing on what you do have rather than what you don’t – whether in a journal, in your head, or by writing down three things. It allows people to feel fulfilled, even when the things around them are uncontrollable.’
It’s powerful partly because it’s universal. ‘I found myself recommending it to friends and family,’ says Scanlon, ‘I totally buy into meditation, mindfulness, yoga and so on, but they’re quite alien, and I don’t think my dad is going to whip out a yoga mat and suddenly start doing salutations.
‘I have friends who don’t believe in the ‘hippy dippy approach’ as they call it, but they’ll happily take out their phones and write down three things they’re grateful for during the day.’
For the avoidance of doubt, gratitude is not a mere prayer hand emoji, or an Instagram account that’s feeling #blessed. ‘Those posts are often about material things,’ says Scanlon wryly, “’like ‘I just got a new jeep #blessed.’”’
Series one of Thanks A Million welcomed comedian Aisling Bea and Strictly winner Stacey Dooley, and for series two, Scanlon has amped up the celeb count. Fellow emerald icon Marian Keyes is thankful for her Anya Hindmarch handbag, series opener Jon Ronson is thankful for peach yogurt, and Nadine Coyle is, perhaps predictably, thankful for Girls Aloud.
Each guest brings something different to the table, and the conversations meander between life-changing experience and what they’re hoping to have for lunch. Every episode features the same list of questions – “the big thank you, the thank you next, the thanks that got away” – but beyond that, it’s a free-for-all. ‘I just hit record,’ says Scanlon, verbally shrugging.
The chats have a broad brief, but Scanlon has had a broad career. She started life as a fashion journalist, moving sideways into documentary-making for RTÉ, before moving to London in 2014. Throw in work on the One Show, three seasons of Robot Wars, and new property programme Your Home Made Perfect, and she’s done just about everything but read the news.
‘I always want to be pushed outside my comfort zone,” she says, “to be mildly uncomfortable in everything that I do. From the outside, Robot Wars seemed like a wildly odd move, but ultimately it was about connecting with people and for me, that’s what brings them all together.”
Unfortunately, her shooting schedule has been brought to a shuddering halt, so the housebound Scanlon is grateful for any ways in which the show can go on. ‘My husband (from Cork) really needs a routine, so he’s working in our spare bedroom, which is now an office. For me, it’s a little more hand-to-mouth – I’ll be with [my daughter] Ruby, she’ll fall asleep, I’ll record a podcast.’
Self-isolation brings the dual threat of loneliness and claustrophobia, and although Scanlon doesn’t lack for company, cabin fever comes for us all. ‘A friend told me she and her husband have a rule,’ says Scanlon, “for two nights a week, the living room is yours. Watch what you want, do what you want, I’m not going near it. She’s says it’s made a massive difference, because it gives you permission to say, ‘I need to be on my own for a little while.’
Ruby is now a two-year-old, and in the age of quarantine, that can be a mixed blessing. ‘She seems completely oblivious,’ says Scanlon, ‘and just seems really thankful to have myself and my husband there all the time. In her mind, she’s on holiday – usually the only time that happens.’
‘I’m thankful for the distraction, and her little hugs, but I’m also wildly jealous of friends that don’t have kids and are watching Sex And The City box sets. It’s swings and roundabouts.”
Scanlon has put down roots in London, but home is where the heart is, and the entire rest of her family remain in Ireland. Pre-pandemic, the distance wasn’t daunting, but under current travel restrictions, the Irish Sea might as well be the Atlantic. ‘My gratitude for my parents and sisters has never been stronger,’ says Scanlon, ‘I’ve spoken to them more over the last couple of weeks than I have all year.’
It’s never easier than in times of crisis to assume that the grass is greener, but Scanlon, along with the rest of the country, must find things to be thankful for in the small, simple pleasures permeating even a life in lockdown.
‘On my road, we’ve got a neighbours group, and suddenly there’s this lovely sense of community. London can be big, cold, and relentlessly busy, but it’s like everything has slowed. Birds are singing, neighbours are chatting, and for the first time, you know all their names. I’ve never experienced that here before.’
Thanks A Million with Angela Scanlon is available on Apple, Spotify and all podcast providers.