Count Your Blessings

“What else floats in water?” “Very small rocks!”

This might sound cheesy but I don’t care. Last year, while reading Dale Carnegie’s HOW TO STOP WORRYING AND START LIVING (the virtues of which I’ve extolled here in the past), I decided to follow his advice to keep an ongoing journal of three things a day that I’m thankful for. Whether you want to thank God for your blessings, or simply write down three positives you can think of every day, I believe this is a worthwhile exercise.

Especially because sometimes, it’s really difficult to do. Maybe because sometimes it’s really difficult to do.

I’ve been trying to keep this up and for some dumb reason, I seem to take Saturday and Sunday off (possibly because my routine isn’t the same on those days and we can be off first thing in the morning on a day trip, or I could be treated to breakfast in bed, or whatever, but I know I’m bad about this inconsistency and I need to sort it).

I’ve been doing it pretty much every Monday-Friday for several months now, and my journal is starting to fill up. My way of approaching it is writing three numbered items from the previous day that I’m thankful for, or from today. Things as simple as, “I’m thankful the sun is shining” (I’m definitely a SAD-sufferer so sunshine is a major thing for me, especially in this country where it’s cloudy or rains 99.9999% of the time), or “I’m thankful for the customer service person yesterday being really helpful instead of telling me what they can’t do.”

Sometimes they’re much larger entries, like yesterday’s. Yesterday I had one that was 2 pages long, where I wrote out exactly what very sweet gesture my fiance’ did that made me so grateful to be with him, but also so I could look back and remember the details of the thing I’m thankful for.

It might sound obvious but I’m seeing that this exercise–when done relatively early on in the day–makes me more optimistic and cheery for the remainder of the day. I definitely notice a difference on the days I don’t. And if for no other reason, when you’re in the dumps you can look back through the pages and see that you really do have a lot to be thankful for, even if you’ve just received another query rejection or someone who’s had your manuscript for 8 months has just written back a one word reply: “Pass” (No, this last one hasn’t happened to me as no one’s requested pages-yet!).

A lot of times I think, “These are all such insignificant things,” but no matter how rubbish a day I’m having, I always manage to find at least 3 things to write down and it’s really been helping me. So I encourage you to give it a try! Try it for one week and tell me if you don’t start to feel even a teensy bit more positive afterwards.

(Photo credit: me-as always :)-I believe taken from the top of the 2nd highest peak in the UK, Ben Macdui, after we’d already conquered Ben Nevis.

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Dealing with Hope Deferred

One day in California I decided to visit Paradise since my life felt pretty far from it at the time…

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (NIV)

So says Proverbs 13:12. I don’t think the author meant to infer that every desire we have should be fulfilled, because.. well, there’s not enough room here to explain why that just wouldn’t work. But I think there’s an obvious truth here. Have you ever had hope deferred? Something you’ve been waiting for, or hoping for, or working towards, and the more time goes on, the more determined you get…. but also, the more bits of your soul seem to crumble around the edges with disappointment. It could be a promotion, a job, a reconciliation, healing, a relationship, a book deal. Whatever. I think it’s safe to say most people can relate to this proverb, and when these soul-deep longings are finally fulfilled, it feels like new life has sprung forth, giving us new energy for the next task or goal.

But when there’s nothing but deferral happening, that energy dissipates. When you keep getting your hopes up and that goal hasn’t manifested, it’s to me the worst kind of frustration. The only help I’ve found is knowing you’ve done all you can today, and focusing on being busy with everything else in your life. I need to focus all my attention onto the next task at hand. Doesn’t mean my hope and goal is sorted yet. It’s not. But focusing on that deferral is only going to cause distress. In other words, get busy doing other things, when you’ve done all you can for that day.

When I lived in California, I went through a really rough patch. It was a time when I had to face a lot of unfortunate choices, particularly about my education and career path (i.e. I needed to be on one!). But when I visited the UK on a solo holiday, in a last-ditch attempt to figure myself out and get away from my rut, I discovered that this was where I felt more alive than anywhere.

Fast-forward through the hottest summer in memory when I worked three jobs to save money (ugh – waitressing at Macaroni Grill – so stressful and my last food service job ever!), and a miracle took place than enabled me to see the hope I had in me – for another chance at university and at proving I could commit to something, follow through and honestly apply myself – be fulfilled. I was able to move to England and enrol on a 3-year BA. I worked my butt off because I felt like I had more to prove then everyone else on the course, most people being about 10 years younger than me. I was a bit too hard on myself at times (see my previous blog on perfectionism), but I needed to prove to myself that I could be successful. Even if getting top marks isn’t the be all and end all, to me, at that time, that was the biggest goal I had, and I achieved it. So my hope of moving to the UK and finishing a degree was fulfilled, and I felt like I was on top of the world during the entire three+ years watching that hope come together.

All that to say, during the hardest times I’ve ever had, I never dreamed I’d get to be where I am now and I’m grateful. When I look back on that most difficult period, despite the stress at the time I know I survived and came through the other side better for it by each morning being thankful for the day – no matter how tired or under pressure I was – and focus all my strength on just that day. I don’t know how I did it. I think it was only by God’s grace, seriously, because I am sooo weak, and to look back and see me do that – well, it wasn’t me, that’s for sure.

So the hopes I’m currently dealing with have more at stake, but I’m so blessed to be where I am now (where I never dreamed I’d be 10 years ago). I achieved two of my biggest dreams before I hit 30, and for that I’m more thankful than I can describe. I’m here today because I made it through that rough patch of hopes deferred.

But if you’re alive, you have hopes, so of course I’ve got more.

Some days I struggle a lot with patience. Lately, it’s been a roller coaster. My desire to see my hopes give me stability and security is currently at serious odds with the truths I’ve read recently in a great book called HOW TO STOP WORRYING AND START LIVING  by Dale Carnegie. I highly recommend it. When I first saw it on the shelf I thought it was written just for me. I’ve read it through twice now, and it’s strengthened my belief that I can learn to balance my hopes. Carnegie makes no claims to his advice being original; in fact, he states early on that it’s a collection of common sense ideas put into practice by the people he’s met, and how it worked for them. Nothing new here. But the way it’s written makes me think, “DUH! Why is it so hard to do these things sometimes?”

I won’t go into all the awesomeness this book has to offer (or quote from others) here since this post is already mega-long. But one thing that relates to the hope-deferred theme is this: the idea that this day will never dawn again (I know, duh, right?). Carnegie quotes a poem by Indian dramatist Kalidasa. Google the whole thing, it’s beautiful, but this is what stood out to me:

“Yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

The first chapter is one of the best. It focuses on the simple idea of having no anxiety for tomorrow, and I think this poem explains why. When we get to tomorrow – the tomorrow we’re anxious for – if we lived today well, we can look back in contentment. Even if a hope didn’t come to pass on that day. So that means we need to live today well. When I get to tomorrow, I’d rather be able to look back on the previous day as full of productivity, positivity, good memories and a GLADNESS that I lived it the way I did. It’s only one day. Surely I can do that; surely I can put down my heavy heart of deferred hopes and just focus on my blessings, and let hope be positive. I’d rather look back on today and know I was content, rather than see I spent it wringing my hands about the “when”s of my hopes. That won’t make tomorrow any better.

It’s hard to be patient when you start thinking, “But this and this so THIS should happen!” But if you can’t force something to happen of your own accord, and you’re doing everything in your power and you’re at the limit of your ability to reach your goal, there comes the point where you have to just stop giving the “when” question any thought. It’s not easy, but I think in times like this when I’m working towards and waiting on a lot of things – particularly things mostly outside of my control – the best option is to try overcoming the anxiety with making today a day you’ll be happy with tomorrow.

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