Counting Our Blessings

While I realize this might sound a little strange, a recent vacation read of a Ken Follett book called “World Without End” was the impetus for me thinking more about, and deciding to make a more concerted effort to practice the art of gratitude. 

It seems especially apropos given that the holidays are upon us.

Additionally, I’ve been thinking for some time that I have a lot to be grateful for. The trouble is, I don’t have Oprah in my life to remind me in quite the same way since she gave up her daily talk show, so I often forget to stop and express my thanks.

However, I’m thinking it’s time for me to get serious about gratitude because according to the experts, gratitude is highly associated with optimism, better health, happiness, and life satisfaction.

Research shows that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a more robust immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude. 

In large part it’s because gratitude shifts our focus from what our lives lack, to the abundance that is already present.

That’s not to say that feeling grateful means everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings. It’s also learning that even when things don’t go our way,  every challenge has its own benefit if we ask ourselves, What’s good about this?” and “ How can I learn and benefit from this?”

In a sense it is about training our brains as filters that can ignore the day to day hassles, while taking in and emphasizing things that are a blessing.

Hard as it may seem to believe, we can improve our health and happiness simply by acknowledging and even writing down what we are grateful for each day.  Experts suggest we should aim for between three and ten items. In the scheme of life, some will be significant and big, while others will be minor.

So how did Follett’s book get me started?

The book is set in the year 1327 in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England.  It does a marvelous job of describing the hardships of the time period including the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War and the horrific plague known as Black Death which ultimately wiped out an estimated 30 to 60 per cent of the population.

It was not an easy life for anyone, so I ended up thinking how grateful I was to be living in our modern times.

And, that was how I started off my first list of things I’m grateful for.

The book also referenced the nuns who unflinchingly served those who were ill or dying. Although my father is far from dying, he has definitely slowed down, and I thought about how indebted I am to my brother Kevin who shoulders the bulk of the responsibility for his care. My sister Nicki also pulls a significant amount of weight.

My list went on from there.

I’m learning that becoming attuned to looking for things to be grateful for results in appreciating simple pleasures as well as things I may previously have taken for granted. Bringing gratitude to my life, instead of waiting for a positive experience in order to feel grateful, is a subtle but truly meaningful shift.

Gratitude means thankfulness and this is the perfect time for each of us to begin counting our blessings, noticing and valuing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that we receive.

In some ways it is about learning to live our life with childlike glee as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much we’ve been given.

May you and yours have a happy and gratitude-filled holiday!

Posted on 12-21-12

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