An antidote is defined as the substance that counteracts a disease or poison. Life is full of all kinds of disease and poison; some of it being literal, and much of it being metaphorical. If you’re reading this blog post and you’ve read what I’ve written here previously, you know that I’ve struggled a great deal with many challenges that have been depressing and difficult—as we all do in some way. Getting through each day can be a strain, sometimes more than others, but one thing I’ve learned through the years is that gratitude truly does counteract the intensity of hardship and struggle. As it says in one of the songs from the movie White Christmas (one of my all-time favorites during the season) “If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep.” Counting blessings doesn’t necessarily help me sleep, given my messed up body chemistry, but it always helps me get some perspective.
I believe part of why assessing how blessed we are is beneficial stems back to the fact that we are humbled enough to acknowledge that all we have comes from God. When we take the time and make the effort to consider how much God has given us, and how much that’s good in our lives, we cannot help but realize that He is IN our lives, and therefore we are not alone. The other powerful facet of gratitude is simply to help us keep perspective. Being grateful for all that’s good doesn’t magically erase all of the challenges, and it’s important to be realistic about what we are up against. But consciously stepping into the paradigm of assessing and appreciating what’s good offers perspective and grants strength and comfort. I know it to be true, because I’ve practiced it for many years.
A very long time ago I became aware of the concept of a gratitude journal. I’ve heard it come up from many different sources, with different suggestions of how to do it. I think what works best is an individual preference. While I’ve done well at this here and there, I’m often not good at following through on just writing down what I’m grateful for, but I’m pretty good at mentally recounting those things. However, I’ve read studies of how the act of writing something down shifts the way our brain perceives it, so I’m offering a challenge for you to get yourself a notebook or journal dedicated to a gratitude list that you can add to regularly—and therefore refer to it when you need a boost—or perhaps at least designate a file on your electronic device where you can quickly jot down the things that are good in your life when they come to mind.
Since I know that we all have our own individual struggles, I’m proposing that we begin a list right here. I’ll start by listing some of the things I think about every day that help me remember how blessed I am. I invite anyone reading this to add to the list. Write as many things as you want, or just one. Leave as many comment posts as you feel inclined. Perhaps together we can generate some positive force of energy that might ripple out into our lives and the lives of those around us that will help us feel stronger as a community in facing our challenges.
● I’m EXTREMELY grateful to all of you who read this blog, which makes my efforts actually worth something. I’m especially grateful to those of you who have left personal and touching comments here on the blog, or who have commented on my Facebook pages about it, or who have emailed me with support and encouragement. Your efforts mean so much to me. Although I have not always been able to respond to your comments, I want you to know that they don’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you!
● This is a big one for me in the overall summary of something I think is so easily taken for granted. I’m grateful for peace and prosperity, safety and protection. Even with financial struggles, accidents, etc. we cannot deny that we are a remarkably prosperous people—those of us who live in the first world, as they define it. If you have a computer, a roof over your head, enough to eat, and feel relatively safe, you have much to be grateful for. These are things we often don’t think about; we just lives our lives and take for granted that this is the way it is. But it isn’t this way for so many people in the world.
● I’m grateful to live in THIS time and in THIS place. I’ve written historical novels and sometimes going to previous time periods where life seemed less complicated feels so appealing. The present can often feel so daunting and overwhelming—because it is—and the world can be a scary place. However, we have so many blessings in being those who were born here and now.
● Expounding on the last one: I’m SO grateful for indoor plumbing, electricity, central air, and all of the electronic devices and appliances that go along with that. What would I ever do without them? I’m so grateful!
● Sometimes when I’m feeling especially down over the pain I’m in, or the lack of sleep I suffer from, I will close my eyes and mentally list all that I have that makes it easier to endure these challenges. I’m grateful for my comfortable bed, my lovely bedroom, the supplements and medications that help ease my symptoms, the TV and DVR and computer that make it so easy to access information and entertainment that helps keep me distracted when I literally can’t do anything else.
● I’m grateful for access to good food. This is a big one for me. Since I can’t eat gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, or corn, I often feel hungry and crave things I can’t have, and my choices are so limited on what I CAN have. Since I don’t feel well, it’s difficult to cook for myself, and it takes a lot more effort than the way I used to cook. HOWEVER, I live in a time and place when there are so many good things available to me, and I have come to truly appreciate a good, safe meal. I also have to add how grateful I am to think that my children have never gone hungry. I’ve always had something to feed them. My father knew real hunger in his childhood, during the depression, and so many people in the world DO know true hunger. And most of us can’t even imagine what that’s like. How can we not be grateful for that?
● I’m grateful for all the parts of my body that are free of pain and functioning properly. When pain and illness are a part of my daily life, it’s easy to only focus on what hurts. Pain has a way of screaming very loudly for attention. But I often remind myself—and take the time to express my gratitude to God—for everything that works just fine and doesn’t hurt. If you add up all the body parts and body systems, the percentage is hugely in my favor. It could always be so much worse!
● And speaking of my body, I have to acknowledge how grateful I am for the way it has held together through so much difficulty. Sometimes I can feel like my body has betrayed me and let me down, but in actuality, my body has survived cancer and a life-threatening disease. It has kept me going when I needed it to in spite of being deprived of so much of what it needed through many long years of not knowing what was going on. It has given me five beautiful and amazing children. I can look in the mirror after a shower and see a lot of scars and ugliness; I can focus on the extra pounds and flabbiness of the descending end of middle age, and the evidence of having incubated those babies. Or I can see much evidence of survival and strength. I can love my five-baby belly because it was stretched to unreasonable limits and it deserves to be flabby for its efforts. I can look at the scars that exist where my breasts used to be and see the battle scars which prove I was blessed enough to survive the attack of one of the great beasts of our time. Thank you, Body! You’re awesome! Just hang in with me until my life’s work is done, and then you can rest.
● I’m grateful for my gift of writing. It’s been a blessing and a curse, but it’s part of who I am, and I’m so grateful for the joy and fulfillment it’s given me, as well as the way it has helped our family financially through many challenges. You might read this one and think: But I’m not a writer, or an artist, or an athlete, or whatever. But EVERY person has SOMETHING unique about what they do and how they do it. Find it, embrace it, let it help you be your best self.
● I’m grateful for TRUE friends; the kind that see the real you and never judge or criticize, even when they disagree with you. What a vast difference there is, and how clearly I’ve come to see it! The value of true friendship is remarkably priceless!
● I’m grateful for a beautiful family! No one is more aware of the weaknesses of my family members than I am. We are all so grossly imperfect and in some ways dysfunctional. But we love each other, and we respect each other’s differences, and I’m grateful for every one of them—my grown up babies, and the new little grandbabies, and the husband who has been with me for the long haul. It’s been a rough road, as family usually is, but there is nothing more valuable or worthwhile than the commitment and dedication we have the opportunity to offer to those we love most.
● I’m grateful for this computer I’m writing on. Geez! I remember my old typewriters, and the computers of more than thirty years ago, the dinosaurs that were so temperamental and challenging. For a writer, this technology is over the top! Charles Dickens and others like him would have been blown away by the very idea of not having to dip a quill into ink after every sentence or two.
● I’m going to stop here. I could go on and on, but now it’s time for you to add to the list. Humor me and take a minute to comment. Let my gratitude feed yours, and let your gratitude feed mine, and let’s focus on all the good we have and allow it counteract the challenges and scariness of the world.
● I’m grateful for you! Love you all!