With the holidays upon us, a whole lot of people feel a whole lot less than joyful. People are always reminding you to remember to think about the shut-ins and the elderly during the holidays. And we should, but the elderly are not the only ones who suffer through the holidays. Life can be overwhelming for us all at times. We all hit an occasional bump in the road where all we can see is discouragement that never seems to end. Depression takes its hold. Grief gets overwhelming. Life is still what we make it though and one of my most trusted coping mechanisms when I am down is a little bit of “blessing therapy,” like the kind they are talking about in the old hymn “Count Your Blessings.”
No matter your religion, or whether you are religious or not, there is a whole lot of truth in some of those old hymns and there is a whole lot of good therapy in counting your blessings and expressing gratitude to God, your higher power, the universe, or karma, whatever it is that you look toward as greater than yourself. For that matter, some of the people you love might like a little gratitude too.
The other day I was thinking about when I was in the hospital after my choking accident. My life changed in an instant. That accident came real close to ending my life and it surely changed life as I knew it. I spent almost a month in the hospital the first time and went back twice before I was through.
I’ve been a writer of some sort most of my life, but it is not always about publishing. Many of the things that I write are not for anybody else but me. Yes, I do indeed keep a journal. Not every single day, like some people do, with me, it is more like when I feel a need, either something I need to think through or maybe some emotions that need venting.
Anyway, while I was in the hospital, I had one of my kids bring me a notebook and a pen so I would have something to write with and I journaled while I was there too. There is no doubt whatsoever that I needed to be journaling at that point. To say that I was in a serious medical predicament was an understatement and it has a major emotional impact on your psyche when your body and physical abilities take a sudden turn.
The whole time, nothing inside me had a single lick of confidence that I would live to see another day. Eventually, we all face that reality though and one day truly will be the last for us all. In the meantime, we all have to deal with that reality as best we can. What I mean is that we all have to cope with what life brings us.
So there I was in the hospital, day after day and week after week, without a lick of confidence that I would ever be out of there. However, something inside me would not let me go there in my thoughts. They were always right there though, no denying that, and there hit a point, when I felt discouragement setting in, and I surely did feel discouraged, but when I did, I would pull out my little journal notebook and start working on my blessing list.
That first day that I started on my blessing list, I didn’t get far. However, I did start my list of blessings.
A couple days later, I was sitting there. It had not been a good day, too many procedures and too little energy. I could feel the discouragement ready to set in, knocking at the door of my psyche. I did not open that door. Instead, I pulled my blessing list back out, read through what I had written so far and added a few more things to it. Then I gave thanks. Moments spent in gratitude. I gave thanks for the good in my life: Good people, family and friends, and life itself.
This went on for days that stretched into weeks. My blessing list became my armor against depression and discouragement. The doc wouldn’t even discuss it when I asked about my prognosis. No matter how poorly I was doing or how discouraged I felt, focusing on the good got me through those times.
Psychologically, what did that blessing list do for me? It put me in a positive frame of mind. It uplifted my spirits. Being real, I felt like I was chained to that hospital bed. Those tubes were as strong as any chain but I would not have lived without them.
When I didn’t think I could stand those tubes another minute, just like in the old song, I counted my blessings and then I gave thanks one more time.
The whole thing was very much a gut reaction. It could be that it had been ingrained in my psyche by the old hymns I sang growing up. At any rate, I knew that if I let it, the feelings of despair would have been overwhelming. Being very realistic, I wasn’t at all certain that I would ever walk out of that hospital alive, and if I did, I didn’t have a clue how long that feeding tube would be with me. Both of those realities were hovering over me but I couldn’t think about that either.
Anytime those thoughts started getting too close for comfort, I’d pull out my little notebook journal and turn back to the page where I had been listing my blessings. I would always start by reading through the ones that I had already listed. Then, moving on down the list, I would read every single one of them again, and every time I got to the end of that list, I added some more. And then, I would give thanks.
Even if I never left that hospital alive, I realized that I sure had a lot to be thankful for. I had lived a good life and I had the love of good people, family and friends.
Getting real, focusing on the good when times get hard is a time honored coping mechanism. It works. Giving thanks is not going to solve every one of your problems. It is not going to change the world, but it sure does put you into a better frame of mind so that you can handle what life throws your way. On top of everything else, in addition to the spiritual aspects, expressing a little bit of gratitude to your loves ones smooths a whole lot of rough patches, it makes everybody feel appreciated and loved.
Although there are times when we all might need a little bit of professional help. That is another matter. If you need help. Then go. No shame. In the meantime, on an everyday basis, there is no doubt that counting your blessings is good therapy and so is giving thanks.
This post got me to thinking about the old hymn, “Count Your Blessings.” The words were written in 1897 by Johnson Oatman, Jr. He was an immensely popular songwriter in his day and has 5000 songs to his credit. Edwin Othello Excell wrote the music. I grew up singing the song, sang it all my life.
Before I finished this post, I was wanting to hear it to and I went looking for a video. Right this instant, I really would love to hear it sang in a little old country church. But I didn’t get anything close to that on YouTube. I particularly enjoyed this rendition by a Catholic choir in Nigeria though. They did a good job with the song and I do believe they captured its spirit.
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