Tag Archive | "pessimism"

Count Your Blessings

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Most of us are familiar with the puzzle of the glass that appears, in accordance with one’s perspective, as either half-empty or half-full.  While pessimists view the glass as half-full (“I don’t have enough; I need more!”) and optimists deem it half-full (“I have plenty for my needs.”), the truth of the matter is that the both parties are looking at the same exact glass!

Given the current state of the world, it’s easy to side with the pessimists.  Isn’t it? Just acknowledge that the economy is going to hell in a hand basket on a one-way trip, and that there are too many wars, too much disease and poverty, and far too much hatred in this world.  Go ahead: acknowledge that.  Say it out loud.  There.  Now don’t you feel better?  If you said, “Yes,” you’re lying, and you know it.

More than twenty years of focused research projects conducted by leading U.S. medical centers have yielded results strongly indicating that pessimistic people are not only more troubled in their minds than those who see the glass as half full, they are also significantly more disposed to contracting disease of the chronic and acute variety.   Understandably then, pessimists’ life spans are also shorter than those of their cheerier brethren.

But how does one redirect one’s focus, if one is given to seeing the glass as half-empty?  How do we get to that happy place in our souls?

Maybe we can start by reverting to childhood, at least in our hearts.  As a child, my siblings and I often caught fireflies in jars on summer nights and kept those jars, with the tops pierced to let in a little air, by our bedsides.   In the dark, we’d watch the little insects glow and wane, glow and wane, like captive stars.  We knew that if we did not release the fireflies come morning, they would die.  So as children, we understood that there was beauty and wonder all around us, even as we knew that those things could be fleeting.  Perhaps that it is the crux of optimism: the knowledge that because joy is transitory, we must seek it out and keep it alive for as long as possible.

One of the simplest ways to do that is, literally, to count our blessings.  As Charles Dickens said, “Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Several years ago, I read a beautiful piece that I wish I had saved.  It said that if we had a roof over our heads, a warm bed in which to sleep, and food on our tables, that we were better off than 80% of the world’s population.  It went on to say that if we had even a small jar of spare change, we were richer than approximately 90% of all the people in the world!   Information such as this can serve as those fireflies did long ago, as small beacons lighting the darkness that can creep into our hearts at the worst of times. 

The other day, for instance, I spied a man riding a bike while toting a huge bag of laundry.  I was in my car, safe and sound, and here was this poor soul struggling to cart his laundry to and from a public Laundromat, while I had not only a car, but also a washer and dryer at home.  However, I didn’t always have those conveniences, so I felt for that man on the bike, and I counted my blessings. I thought of him having to make that trek as the weather grows inclement, and I felt twice as blessed.

Every morning, I’m fortunate enough to have a hot shower before I start my workday.  The warm water pelting me as the suds sluice over me and run down the drain feels wonderful.  All I need to do is turn on the tap, but around the world, many people don’t enjoy this dual pleasure-necessity.   Lacking basic infrastructures, people in underdeveloped nations are forced to haul water in from wells or streams, even walk miles to get it.

I had just a small taste of this when I was a child and occasionally, the pipes in my house would freeze during the winter, particularly in the bathroom.   My brothers and sisters and I were forced to use a washtub in the kitchen and to lather our hair under the kitchen sink, but these inconveniences were few and far between.  This has become another blessing to count.

A woman I know had a grandmother, now passed on, who had two sayings.  One was, “If you have a tongue in your head and a subway token in your pocket, you can never get lost.” (Obviously, she was a New Yorker!)  The other was, “If you have your health, you have everything.”  When people would argue with her, especially on that last point, she would shake her head and say, “You may lose your job.  You may lose your house.  But if you have your health, you can find another job and buy another house!”  Nowadays, most of us are aware of the small, proactive changes that we can affect in our lives in order to stay healthy and live long lives.  Thankfully, we live in a society where these changes are easily within our reach; yet another blessing to count.

This same woman of my acquaintance grew up in New York City and one of its boroughs.  Every morning en route to work, she had to walk through Grand Central Station and literally step over the bodies of countless homeless people.  If they weren’t in Grand Central, they were on the streets, huddled in doorways, or tucked away in the alcoves of the subways.  Always, this woman mused, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Therefore, she always gave whatever she could to the homeless.  She felt that she had to pay it forward, since God had been good to her.

And therein lies another path to counting our blessings: doing so in a manner that positively impacts others, particularly those less fortunate.  If you don’t live in a big city, you can still pay forward your own blessings with small acts that will be monumental to those who are underprivileged.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen, contribute to food or clothing drives, or become an active member of a philanthropic organization.

The ability to think and act positively is another blessing, one that can be cultivated.  Negative thoughts are like carbon monoxide: enough of them will kill your spirit, make those around you miserable, and can even, as medical professionals know, shorten your life.  Life can be trying, but with a positive attitude, it can be a lot easier.  Surround yourself with positive people, look yourself in the mirror and give yourself genuine compliments, and commit small acts of kindness.  Also, please consider the following.  Do you have:

1.       A roof over your head?           

2.       A blanket to keep you warm at night?

3.       Food in your stomach and in your fridge?

4.       Healthy limbs to help you get out of bed in the morning and earn a living, or seek gainful 


5.       Clean water to drink?

6.       A friend to lean on?

7.       Clothes to cover your body?

8.       A smile for someone else?  (Mark Twain once said, “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”)

9.       A kind word to give?

10.     Love in your heart to share?

If you’re still having trouble seeing your glass as half full, perhaps you would like to copy this Irish blessing and post it in a place where you can see, and reflect upon it, often.

May your days be many and your troubles be few.

May all God’s blessings descend upon you.

May peace be within you, and may your heart be strong.

May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam. 

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