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Washington Voices

Counting blessings lifts spirits

Autumn is usually my favorite season. School starts, football takes off, and I love walking in the sunlight’s last hurrah on crisp fall afternoons. But this year, as the last of autumn slipped away with daylight saving time, I found myself falling into a funk.

An early freeze had robbed our neighborhood trees of their annual explosion of fall color. Instead of vibrant gold, red and russet, the leaves turned dim, dusty shades of brown and then fell dispiritedly to the ground. Our lawn faded, and gray foggy mornings enveloped the area in a dreary shroud.

In addition, bad news followed me like Eeyore’s rain cloud. Both our cars needed expensive repairs. Home improvements proved more costly than we’d anticipated. And while I love my work, economic worries began to nibble away at the enjoyment of each day’s tasks.

One morning last week, I woke before my alarm. Immediately, a long list of the day’s challenges began to run through my mind like an obnoxious neon reader board. It was dark outside, cold inside, and I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to slide out of bed.

“At least my bed is comfy,” I thought. And with that thought came an epiphany. Years before, during a very difficult time, I’d discovered the magic of gratitude. I’d read about two researchers at Southern Methodist University who’d conducted a study called the Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving.

They divided several hundred people into three groups. The first group kept a diary of events that occurred each day, while the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences. The last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.

The results of the project revealed that those who kept gratitude lists reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, optimism and energy. The project also showed, “The gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved.” (Read more here: religion/gratitude_ theory.html)

That study inspired me to keep my own thankfulness diary. I discovered an amazing thing – counting my blessings, no matter how small, shifted my perspective. While my difficulties didn’t disappear, my attitude changed, and that made all the difference.

I remembered that lesson as I nestled into my burgundy Egyptian cotton sheets, covered by a quilt that had been lovingly stitched by friends. The rich smell of coffee, thoughtfully brewed by my husband before he left for work, enveloped the house.

I heard one son turn the shower on and another foraging for breakfast in the kitchen. And in the darkness of the autumn morning, a gratitude list began to form in my head. Soft sheets, hot showers, coffee. … The problems of the day didn’t evaporate. But their importance shrank, and my funk faded in the brilliant light of gratitude.

Today, in homes and restaurants across America people will gather to enjoy a traditional feast. Our family, like many others, will take time to allow each person gathered at the table to express what they are most thankful for.

I find myself unsure of where to begin. My heart is full and I am humbled by blessings undeserved, unearned and often taken for granted.

My wish is that each of you reading this column will face the same dilemma.

Happy Thanksgiving.