Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Counting Our Many, Many Blessings...

Roses and Tulips
Jan Philips van Thielen
1600s

How many of us have learned to count our blessings? How many of us even realize how many blessings we have? How do we measure them? Do we measure them against our next-door neigbours -- keeping up with the Joneses? Do we measure them against our own expectations? I don't know the answer to that. I do know that for many people -- not all people, but many -- being happy or sad is a choice. I have learned that from my own personal experience. Several years ago I fell into a deep depression. I am not normally a depressive person, so it was unusual for me. I had gone through a stretch of time where several people close to me had died, including my husband, my father and a close friend. I was a single mother and I experienced financial difficulties. Then came a stretch of a few years where I lost my mother, I lost my job, and I was recovering from a life-threatening illness. All of a sudden, my "get up and go" got up and went. I fell into a psychological collapse; I had no more strength. I felt as though I were stuck in the mud at the bottom of a very deep, dark ocean. No one wanted anything to do with me. Doctors filled me with medications that just made everything worse.

One day a little spark inside me flared up. I took all the medications and flushed them down the toilet. Then I started going for walks, and I noticed wonderful bunches of tulips on display outside the markets, and I started buying a dozen tulips at a time. I took them home, put them on my coffee table, and enjoyed their beauty. Did you know, there are over 150 types of tulips, each more beautiful than the last. As I sat looking at those tulips, it occurred to me how much beauty there is in this world, and often we are so mired in our day-to-day existence, we don't notice the beauty all around us, including in our own lives.

I have had so many people lately crying on my shoulder about the sadness in their lives, I wonder if they ever take the time to notice that they actually have more blessings than they realize. Much more, in fact. I think we have been conditioned by marketers to believe that our cups are half full, rather than half empty. We need more, more, more. Fill up those cups. Buy this, it will make you happy. Buy that, it will take away the blues. The only problem is, it doesn't work. Because the things we actually need to make us happy cannot be bought.

I learned long ago to "make do" with less than most people have. I don't own a car, I don't own my own home, I don't even own a cell phone. To some people this would be devastating. To me, it doesn't even matter -- oddly enough. When I hear people crying in their beer about the things they don't have, I marvel at the things they do have, and I wonder why they can't see it. I live in Vancouver, so one of my blessings is to have a good umbrella and a pair of waterproof puddle jumpers. Small blessings, I know, but to me they are important. It's not the big things in life that count, but the small things, the things we overlook. Did you have a great cup of coffee this morning? Did you laugh at a silly joke someone told you? Did you step on the scale and notice the number had gone down a smidgeon two pounds?

Depression is a serious clinical disease, and should be medically assessed, diagnosed and treated. And it is treatable. I am not making light of those folks who do suffer from such illnesses. But chronic malcontent is something that is within our grasp to change. We have a choice to be sad or happy. Me? I prefer to be happy, or at least content. Serenity is good too. There is a prayer used by the folks in Alcoholics Anonymous that I think everyone should recite every day.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Now, my wonderful bloggy friends, if you're feeling sad today, please, go out and buy yourself some tulips.

37 comments:

lovelyprism said...

I'm on it! I'm all dressed and ready to go, I will have tulips when I return!
I think you're right. Some people choose to be unhappy or unsatisfied or whatever their case may be. Buying things won't bring fulfillment. My mother was a pack-rat, always attempting to fill a "happiness hole" with "stuff". All she managed to do was fill the house with stuff then complain the house was too small. She didn't need stuff, she needed to figure out what the void in her life was and fill it. Pity she never figured that out.

C Hummel Kornell a/k/a C Hummel Wilson said...

Jo,

Well said! I had a wonderful sister-in-law who taught me early on that when you are suffering set backs and are broke, take whatever money you have and spend a few cents on flowers. She believed you must heal the soul with natural and artistic beauty before you could heal the body. I believe she was right.

ZB said...

lovely post. TC :)

The Bug said...

Recently my husband got a new cell phone. He needed it - he needed something more reliable with his new job. I had lust in my heart for that phone. His was red - I could have one in green! I was all about the new green phone & even went so far as to go to the website to order it. It was going to cost around $85. Then I thought. Hmmm. I call hubby once per weekday to let him know I'm on my way home from work. That's it. Why do I need to spend $85 to do that on a prettier phone? I don't!

I was pretty proud of myself at that moment - I don't usually deny myself things. And you're right - that new phone would have had zero to do with my happiness. In fact, I'm happier I didn't spend the money!

Nancy said...

I couldn't agree more, Jo. One of the things I learned in college was that the mind loves to get into a pattern of thinking. In order to keep yourself mentally healthy, you need to think thoughts that are positive. I tell my children if they are depressed to list every single thing they have to be grateful for, and keep repeating them like a mantra, until they change the rut. Much the way you did on your walks. Also keeping your environment pretty is important. I always have fresh flowers in most of my rooms. Tulips are my spring favorites.

leilani said...

oh jo, what a wonderful post! You are bullseye correct.

Nicole said...

Instead of drowning ourselves in the various sorrows that have surrounded us, we need to be strong enough and willing enough to push through the past and look to the future.

You wrote that on Iowa Grassland's blog. I don't know if you came up with it or if it's a quote but I love it. As soon as I read it I wrote it down and I plan on counted cross stitching it to hang on my wall. This last six months have been very difficult for my little family and Christmas will be small but the things we have to be thaankful for are abundant! (including our new baby!)
I am thankful you wrote that for it keeps me going when I have a rough day.

Land of shimp said...

Ah Jo, we're on the same page on this one.

I call this my "looking to see" theory. You will see the things in your life that you actually look to see. You can focus on what you do not have, and that list will almost always be bottomless for even the richest among us. Or you can look to see what it is that you do have around you, the things that are wonderful, the makings of a good life.

It's not even things...it's elements in your environment...my husband has a wonderful sense of humor, frequently he'll laugh and I'll say, "What's making you laugh?" "You. You make me happy, and then I laugh."

The smell of my shampoo, my strange but loving little cat, my scattered but kindhearted son, music, sunshine, it turns out that list is pretty much endless too.

Whenever I find myself focusing on the wrong list, I stop and name five great things near me. There's a Christmas tree within my sight, and a list of groceries to purchase in front of me...for which I have adequate funds, which is a blessing in and of itself...

You will see what you look to see in the course of everyday life.

Shaista said...

Oh Jo, what a beautiful post. So much of yourself in it, and so much of yourself that you give. I love the part about tulips - Mum just bought 500 of them!! Only seeds, but still...
And I shall enjoy them from seed to fruition and think of you.
Gratitude is what makes Being Human bearable :)

Charles Gramlich said...

It sure did make a difference in my life when I started noticing all the wonderful things I had to be thankful for. I still complain way too much, but I do give gratitude now as well.

Tom Bailey said...

I like the theme of this post and agree completely. We are all painting our own life canvass of happiness choice by choice and thought by thought.

Best regards,
Tom Bailey

ivan said...

Having once owned a Cadillac and suddenly losing it all, including half my mind, I can identify.
But once back up (we in the middle class seem to be little pop-up dolls), there is this cry of hubris: "Oh Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.

CarlaHR said...

Hello Jo, I just found your blog the other day via Diary of a Country Girl and want to say that I will be a frequent visitor. This is a very timely post, too often we get so caught up in our day to day flurry of mindless acquisition and forget to focus on the important things, our health, loved ones and the beauty that surrounds us if we just take the time to look for it.

Katy said...

Great post Jo! I had a similar experiance a few years ago. I had a lot of people leave my life all at once and I felt as if I had fallen into a deep fog. I tried to control everything in my world at a time I felt I had lost control of everything. Then one day I thought, "Do I want to have in a world full of wonder, color and imagination or one that is full of rules, and everything is black and white?" The choice seemed obvious. Now I just have to remind myself to live in color.

A.M. said...

humm...this sounds like me on some days. I feel that depression is when somebody has pulled the rug from under your feet one too many times, depression can also be the lack of Vit.D in a persons body, and depression can also happen to somebody who is perfectly fine, but then one day their whole world comes crashing down on them. Personally, I'll try your tulip idea for today since work was a disaster, and I am very grateful for everything God has given me. I think I'll also try to being more faithful for not only the things I see immediately, but for the things that are yet to come.

susie said...

As usual, you are spot on. Whenever I'm feeling really down in the dumps, I buy myself some flowers at the grocery store. They don't have to be expensive, just colorful!

And last summer, I even grew my own flowers!

Country Girl said...

Wonderful post, Jo. I needed to hear that!

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Exactly why I have my gardens! Jus today I harvesed some dry flowers and sprayed them gold and silver for a beautiful arrangement and placed i in the store. I am not that busy this time of year....but I can enjoy it.

Cloudia said...

Thank you for sharing this deep and simple wisdom!

I needed this today.


Aloha, Dear Bloggy Friend!


Comfort Spiral

the walking man said...

{:-]}

Pauline said...

better yet, buy someone else some tulips!

Bagman and Butler said...

The Serenity Prayer is my favorite too.

Carla said...

Great post! And just what I needed to read right now. I've been having trouble with depression lately. Mainly because of a beloved cat's long illness...and now his death. And also this dang tinnitus!! And because of the tinnitus I try to avoid all meds.

I believe in the simple life. I've never owned a home or had a cell phone. Wish I could live without a car, but out here in the country, it's just not possible. I am grateful for many many things. The tulips are gone now, but I feel lucky to be surrounded by the beauty of nature. Seeing a wild turkey in my front yard this morning has made my day! Thanks for your message, Jo. It's one we all should take to heart.

Land of shimp said...

@Carla -- I just wanted to say I'm sorry about your cat. Our pets are constants in our lives, our daily witnesses, and the world feels a little off balance when they aren't there any longer.

It's funny, people can be a little dismissive about the loss of a pet, thinking it unimportant. I think loving our pets is one of our bravest acts, though. It is the one relationship we undertake where we pretty much know this is how the story turns out. We outlive our pets.

It's one of the most generous things we do, and are rewarded ten-fold for doing so.

I also hope that the ringing in your ears tones way the heck down.

Anyway, sorry for the off-topic tangent, Jo. Just wanted to kick in, simply because sometimes something sad happens: and we feel weird about feeling sad. Sometimes it helps to know, "Hey, you know what? That's a very real thing." It is important to count our blessings, but it's also okay to miss our friends, furry or otherwise.

Whitney Lee said...

I agree! This is a pertinent post for so many, particularly this time of year. I know that the holidays are tough for lots of people. I try so hard to have patience with those people, but it's quite a struggle for me. In my opinion and experience Life is often difficult. The fact that some people have challenges or are experiencing some sort of difficulty doesn't make them special; it makes them human.
I completely agree about marketing. You are so right; stuff doesn't fix anything. In fact, it often makes things worse.

Deb said...

Just dropped by to say hello, Jo!

white crow said...

now everything seems fine to me.. :) (well, after reading this post).

Jo said...

Hello, all my wonderful friends. I have been caught up in a painting I am doing, and I have not had the time to respond to all your wonderful comments personally. I'm glad my post made you feel better.

It's a good trick -- if you're feeling "down in the dumps" buy yourself some tulips. They work evey time...!

Cheers,
Jo

kenju said...

Excellent advice. I resisted a cell phone for years, but I do find them to be wonderful when I need one. I think the key is not to give out the number!

Brenda said...

I have had some major depressions and anxieties in my life also, and the meds to go with them. I more or less did exactly what you did finally, and just got rid of them... and now I try to keep my life simple. Knowing when to back out of life's traps helps also. Sometimes I can find myself being sucked into drama...and I just back off, and find something pleasant to surround myself with.
I do know though...that not all of us are able to do this...and some people do benefit from medication. It just didn't help me much.
Great post Jo!

Carla said...

To: Land of Shimp. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your kind words!

Bailey said...

General malcontent might be the greatest problem with society today.

Your attitude on life is wonderful. I'm working on trying to "simplify". Makes it easier to focus on the good parts of life :)

(I'm catching up on my blog reading, can you tell?!)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is a magnificent post and call-to-action, Jo. You set a shining example, and I hope you never, ever run out of tulips.

I have often spent my last dollar on flowers because I can live without many things, but beauty sustains me.

Deedee said...

Jo, this is right on the mark. I too have suffered from depression but I refuse to succumb to it and I don't take any medications. When I feel it coming on, I start walking outside as much as I can, eating more veggies and berries and I try everyday to remember how much I have to be thankful for. If you are determined to be happy, you can be.

Mia said...

I've never been able to feel sorry for myself. In my family it just doesn't work.

A human kind of human said...

Thank you for this post Jo and especially for the paragraph on depression being a serious illness. I have lived with depression for many years and only occassionally it flares up so badly that I have to take medication and that usually happens when I am not alert to what is happening to me. If I pay attention, I can normally pick up the signs very early and counter the depression with things like physical exercise, sleep patterns, music, the right books and DOING GOOD THINGS TO OTHERS. The last is in capitals as there is nothing that makes makes me so aware of my blessings as helping others to overcome their sadness and hardships.

Paula Slade said...

Lovely post Jo!! Back in 1995, my mother gave me a Christmas gift that I treasure to this day - a copy of Sarah Ban Breathnach's "Simple Abundance: A Day Book of Comfort and Joy." There is so much wisdom in that book that every so often I will turn to it to reinforce the blessings that are always around.