Count your blessings versus your burdens—Holiday advice that's great all year
I have to admit, I am a bit of a scrooge [hold the commentary Jigsawians]. I find that the pressures of work, the added stress of all the holiday activities and the fact that both tend to keep me from doing the things I already don’t have the time to do makes me not the cheeriest guy during this time of year. But that doesn’t mean I get to ditch sending out a Jigsaw holiday message once a year.
Searching for an idea, I did some thinking, mumbled “Humbug” a few times, and even wrote a post that got rejected [too dark… go figure]. And then, poof, it came to me. Or rather Matt O’Donnell came to me and stuck a half-finished holiday card under my nose. It was our client holiday card. “We need a line for this,” he said. A moment later I wrote, “It’s the time of year we count our blessings—we consider you to be one of them.” Poof. Holiday card. And hey, maybe, a holiday post.
Now, while I do truly count our clients as blessings, it should be no surprise to you that I don’t count all the blessings in my own life. I tend to focus on all the things that I find wrong, that are burdensome to me. So I had to search for information on counting one’s blessings. What I stumbled upon was what I needed—some proof in the pudding, to be cliché. It was a research study that tracked psychological well-being as measured against different control groups—most interesting to me was that one of the groups was asked to count their blessings and another counted their burdens.
This was not a survey in a magazine or random web-sourced study, this was serious research. You can read the results of Robert Emmons’ and Michael McCullough’s study, but of significance is that it is one of the only studies on the topic and it was conclusive that focusing on the gratitude found in your life did correlate to higher indicies of positive feelings in life. Hmmmmm… really? Just by focusing on the blessings and not the burdens?
After discovering their findings, I did an experiment of my own. I started by counting my burdens, as I seem to do in daily life. Hassles at work, paying the bills, struggles with raising kids, finding time to keep a marriage alive and well. I will spare the details, but I found enough burdens to count on my hands and a couple toes. And then it was hard to continue.
Then I counted my blessings. Inspiration at work, being able to pay the bills, the amazing gifts of children growing into adults, having a patient and kind wife. But when counting my blessings it is so easy to find more. And to find blessings in smaller things that mean so much more. A new day, our health, parents who are still well, brothers and sisters in-law who I care for, friends, pets we have known, places we have discovered together. Sorry, but I also find joy in Sharpies, mechanical pencils and Zebra pens among other things [like Costco, where your can buy the aforementioned at great prices and large quantities].
Suddenly, I ran out of fingers and toes to count on. Where would I put Friday night ferry rides to Washington Island, that where made possible by all the blessed jobs I have been fortunate to keep in my career? And where can I count every one of the attributes that my wife and my children have that I take for granted, but are so much more important than the criticisms I share that cause our relationships not to be their fullest? Where do I count all the events, occurrences, people, talents and opportunities that have been given to me in the past seven plus years since Jigsaw was born? Suddenly, I felt better. And I was only starting.
The point of my experiment was not scientific. Nor do I have the data to prove my results. But I bet you, if you are counting your burdens, you’d be happier and more settled if you sat down and took inventory of your blessings. Starting out by finding the blessings in what you consider burdens. Then, think about all the things that bring the most joy. And I bet, that without trying, you will continue to list the smallest things that bring you even a little bit of joy. And you will feel better about your life.
The secret would be to do the same thing, all year round. Personally, I like the way I have felt the past few days after I did my experiment and spent time with my family this weekend. I believe it’s the start of a happier holiday and fresh new year.
So, happier holidays everyone—I leave you with this:
Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.