(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Several friends have told me lately that they don’t want to read the newspaper any more or watch the news. “Everything is so horrible” they say. “The world has become so evil. It was never as bad as this!” I don’t know if that is true, or if it’s because today we have easier access to what is going on, both in our country and abroad. It’s true we take a barrage of horror and despair every day so that we forget that there are also positive and good things in our lives as well.
Who remembers from their childhood a series of books about Pollyanna? Even though Eleanor H. Porter published them in America in 1913, they were still wildly popular when I was a child decades later.
Pollyanna was an 11-year-old orphan who was the eternal optimist, even while living with her strict, unsmiling maiden aunt. She managed to be glad about the most horrendous things, and little girl fans set up “Glad Clubs” all over the U.S. and even in Australia where I lived.
I never joined because when she was “glad” that she broke her leg and was given crutches instead of the doll she craved, she became just too goody-goody for me to swallow.
But some of the “gladness” seems to have stayed. Certainly on awakening each morning, at my age. I’m always glad of another day and the potential it offers.
The American tradition of Thanksgiving – friends and family sharing a meal as the pilgrims did in 1621, seems a very positive celebration. Orthodox Jews give thanks after every meal, and blessings for many good things throughout the day. In Asian culture, bowing is a way to say thanks, just as Hindus place their palms together , bring them to their face and nod. In Bali, the Lomban Festival is held by fishermen to give thanks to the sea. In each case, the underlying message is that of giving thanks for how wonderful and suprising and miraculous life is, with each new day an opportunity for fulfilment, friendship and happiness.
You can’t help feeling glad and grateful for blue skies and sunshine; the endless waves of the ocean rolling into the shore; the dewdrops in the heart of a rose; stars scattered like diamonds across the night sky; trees donning new green lace at the approach of Spring.
Giving thanks can be a secret weapon and a tool for protecting mental stability and promoting health. A huge amount of modern life’s trauma and unhappiness stems from a simple lack of gratitude. The fact of life itself is amazing enough. We only become unhappy when we indulge in the “me” culture of “I deserve more.”’ “I want something for nothing”; “I want compensation”. Counting our blessings is the best way to avoid the fatal self-absorption that can lead to an unfulfilled life, serious depression, even emotional or physical breakdown.
Giving thanks is part of an instinct for survival , because it’s useful and vital to be thankful for the world around us. It will help keep your balance through the sticky mire of life when there are troubles, losses or sadness that beset us all at some time. Yet there’s always something to be glad about if you look hard enough.
There are many strategies to keep you optimistic. Set aside just ten minutes a day to focus on the good things in your life. Make a list if you like. This is an effective mood-boosting technique.
Savor just being alive. Remember those millions who are worse off than yourself in third-world countries. We have food and water and shelter, and these things should never just be taken for granted.
Show appreciation to family and friends who are always there for you. Say “thank you” often, even if it’s just to the bus driver who stopped for you when he didn’t have to. Buy some pretty “thank you” cards and send them to deserving friends.
This is a powerful, emotional way to clarify the really important things in your life.
Comparing ourselves to people who have more is a recipe for misery. Remember envy is one of the deadly sins, and money has never been proven to increase happiness.
True, there are horrible things happening in our country - where racism, intolerance and extremism threaten to overwhelm us. But we can still relish life’s little pleasures… a cup of tea, a piece of chocolate, freshly laundered sheets, a bud that bursts into flower in your garden, the blessing of hot water.
Be aware of them instead of dismissing them as trivial.
Finally, get things in proportion. If you can find a way to help, make it a priority in your life. And try to remember that counting your blessings will help you when you must confront difficulties.
You’ll see the bigger picture, and find that you have more going for you than you ever imagined.Dvora Waysman is the author of 13 published books, including “The Pomegranate Pendant”;(now a movie titled “The Golden Pomegranate:) “Esther” – a Jerusalem Love Story . “Woman of Jerusalem”’ “In A Good Pasture” and “Seeds of the Pomegranate.” She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org