A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

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.

7 Responses to “Count Your Blessings”

  1. I’m blessed to be an atheist. I’m serious. 🙂

    Because I’m an atheist I no longer have to care about what others believe.
    I don’t have to defend the xenophobic rantings of primitive middle-eastern scribes.
    I don’t have to worry with tears about the fate of my relatives’ eternal souls, about my father some day burning in Hell.
    I don’t have to feel guilty that I didn’t, at some point, arbitrarily insert JC into a stimulating conversation with a non-believer.
    I’m no longer pressured to plug JC whenever I accomplish something and when others congratualte me.
    I don’t have to bank on the world getting worse so that prophecy will be fulfilled. It’s OK to acknowledge that things over all really are much better in the world despite all the many problems.
    I don’t have to care about others’ sexual orientation or their sex lives in general.
    I don’t have to frantically search for a rationalization for every awful tragedy to explain it to others (or to myself).
    I don’t have to be a hypocrite who has to put on a good show so that the name of christ won’t be shamed by my bad actions.
    I’m free to spend my time learning all kinds of great things about the real world without feeling guilty that I’m neglecting the study of the Word. And each new finding of science is no longer a potential threat to my core foundations as a person.
    I no longer have to worry that god may decide it’s time to “test” me to see if I’ll stand up under pressure.
    I don’t have to worry about getting punished for “hidden sins.”
    I get to talk to people with interesting ideas without worrying that they’ll drag me down to Hell with them.

    I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop here. Bottom line, Atheism has been a real and ongoing blessing in my life. I just want every one to know.

  2. Well said Polly! 🙂

    Out of curiousity, have you written your deconversion story?

  3. Thanks!
    Actually, I pretty much described my whole deconv. in an exchange with Matt R. in a post over at Daylight. I have no idea which topic though.

  4. Hi Polly, that was a great comment, and I couldn’t agree more. As one who’s been mentally trapped I too feel the liberation and intellectual freedom of atheism. Well said.

    As for the article itself, I agree with Tobe; I wouldn’t call myself an optimist or a pessimist. I’m a realist, but I also try and focus on the positive things I have instead of worrying over what I can’t change. Funnily enough, I’ve only had this attitude since I de-converted!

  5. Well said. My husband and I were just talking about this in the context of Thanksgiving, which we had just invited some relatives to share. I said I still think the tradition of going around the table and saying what you are thankful for in your life is valid whether you are thankful “to” someone or something or not. We are still glad for the good things in our lives and it is important as well as healthy to focus on the positives.

  6. Polly,

    Simply turning your eyes away from everything and pretending it isn’t there doesn’t mean it isn’t. My 3 year daughter thinks that if she covers her own eyes, no one can see her and she can do whatever she wants.

    You can convince yourself that you’re better off by not caring about anything or taking responsibility for yourself, but that doesn’t make it so.

  7. Simply turning your eyes away from everything and pretending it isn’t there doesn’t mean it isn’t.

    On the other hand, if the evidence actually suggests it isn’t there, there’s nothing to stop us being glad of the fact.

    You can convince yourself that you’re better off by not caring about anything or taking responsibility for yourself, but that doesn’t make it so.

    You do realise that atheism doesn’t necessarily entail “not caring about anything or taking responsibility for yourself”, don’t you?

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