Blessed benefits of counting blessings
(Today's editorial is edited and revised from a Thanksgiving message first published November 26, 2015.)
When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed, / When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, / Count your many blessings, name them one by one, / And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
-- Johnson Oatman
However you define "the Lord" in Oatman's context -- or even whether you define such a spiritual concept -- you do it in your own way. But the value of the message is the same regardless of your definition. No matter how hard life seems, if you take a little time to reflect on the positive in your life, you will be surprised -- and uplifted.
This was the idea when, according to an account by Benjamin Franklin, a farmer stood up in a Plymouth gathering more than four centuries ago to decry that the colonists "weary'd heaven with their complaints" and instead proposed they take some time to reflect on the bounty around them.
It was also the idea in 1863 when, on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William H. Seward wrote the order proclaiming the last Thursday in November to be the official nationwide day of Thanksgiving, declaring that in spite of the rigors of a devastating Civil War, "the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom."
And it is the idea today in an entire body of contemporary psychological and social science that has found that people who adopt an attitude of gratitude feel better about themselves and their future, sleep better and have fewer health problems than others. We are, literally it seems, twice blessed when we stop to take stock of those aspects of life that bring us comfort, joy and happiness -- first by the things themselves, then by the improvements in our health and outlook that considering them brings.
As Thanksgiving Day 2015 dawns, there is much on the public stage to bring worry and dismay -- a state in financial crisis, a rancorous national debate over impeachment, the persistent threat of malicious and unpredictable violence at home and around the world. But there is much also to bring joy and satisfaction -- a steadily improving economy, the great fortune of living in a country where the people can sort through all that rancor to select their own leaders, the threshold of a season of hope and wonder and all manner of individual blessings, big and small, that give each life its true meaning, purpose and pleasure.
Amid all the hubbub of a hectic holiday, spend some time today reflecting on these good things, whatever the form they take for you. Your health and your outlook will be better for it.
And, in a very satisfying way, it may surprise you.