Count Your Blessings
In my article Everything Happens for a Reason, I made the point that when really bad things happen, there is nothing to be gained from trying to salvage one, measly thing that could have been slightly worse, and declaring a false victory.
I stand by this point, but I think it’s worth clarifying that there is nothing wrong with having a positive outlook on life. I don’t mean pretend you don’t have problems. I can’t stand it when people say things like “so what if you’ve lost your job, don’t you know there are children starving in Africa?”. We all have our problems, and no matter how insignificant they may be to other people, they are certainly significant to us. Starvation and poverty in the world are everyone’s problems, and I am not suggesting for one second that we should see ourselves as relieved of any responsibility for them, simply because we have our own personal problems to deal with. But our resources are finite and need to be organised. Sometimes we need to help ourselves before we can help anyone else, simply because we won’t be fit to do the latter until we’ve done the former.
The important thing is to keep perspective. No matter how bad you’ve got it, there will always be some poor chap somewhere in the world who has it worse, and if you can spare a thought for him in your darkest hour, then you’ve achieved something most people never have and never will.
I’ve said before that there is nothing wrong with adapting religious concepts to fit our secular beliefs, and I think this is one of those occasions when it is quite appropriate. “Count your blessings” is clearly a lesson that we should be grateful to God for the mercies he has shown us, and that by focusing on them during difficult times we may feel better and realise how lucky we really are, and that things may aren’t so bad as we first thought. I don’t believe in God, but I’m quite happy to adopt this phrase in a secular sense, meaning: in difficult times, remember the things for which you can be grateful, things that not everyone else has. Be grateful for the sources of happiness in your life, not that they have been granted by God but that they have simply come about through good fortune and your own hard work.
As long as they are applicable to you, you can be grateful for the basics you enjoy such as a roof over your head, food on your table and clothes on your back. Beyond that, there is also your health, your friends and family, the achievements you have made in your work and in your personal life, and that you live in a country that grants you freedom that is not enjoyed in other parts of the world.
I often find, during times of hardship and unhappiness, that if I remember these things, imagine my life without them and then think of the people who actually don’t have them, it is almost impossible not to feel better about the problems I am facing. That is not to say I dismiss them or make light of them. Nor does it mean that I pretend that they are not there, or that they are not really problems, or that they are not important, or that they do not require my attention to solve them. All it means is that, for one moment, I place my problems in a greater context, and often happen to find that far from being half empty, the glass is at least half full, if not more so.