Counting Our Blessings

by Anita DiGregory

In celebration of the last day before an extended holiday break, my daughter’s lovely and very talented tutor had created a “Grammar Bingo” game for the class. Each child chose their own card from her stack of handmade bingo cards.  My daughter chose hers and then proceeded to win grammar bingo not once, not twice, but five times!  As we climbed into the car with all her candy winnings, I joked on our way home from our homeschool cooperative that maybe she should try her luck with a lottery ticket.  Her homemade cards made me think, though: Can you imagine if we all had bingo cards for the year 2020?  Who would have had murder hornets for the win? How about toilet paper hoarding?

I think we could probably all agree that if 2020 had a motto, it would be the year when everything was out of whack and nothing went as planned. For many, it was a year of tragedy, of loss, of division, of suffering, of sadness, of isolation.  Many have fallen ill; many have lost friends and loved ones. And all of us, even those fortunate enough not to personally be infected, have been impacted by the reverberations of this pandemic. And, as a result of the very nature of the beast, we have been denied of the very things that would bring us any semblance of solace: church services, gyms, restaurants, and even each other. 

Last Thanksgiving, my family lost not just one but two beloved family members. I recently read somewhere that the human body remembers trauma. As these anniversaries drew closer, I could feel my anxiety grow.  And, as the 2020 holiday season drew closer, I so deeply desired to be with all of my loved ones. Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen. My parents and brothers and their families couldn’t be here. Even my son, my expectant daughter-in-law,  and our granddaughter couldn’t be with us, care of COVID-19…the gift that keeps on giving.

I may never get “the big picture” or understand why things happen the way they do, but I do trust in God and His perfect love for each and every one of us. Even as COVID-19 threatens to follow us deep into 2021, we can still choose to make this a wonderful year and strive to become our best selves. I think the challenge lies in becoming the best version of ourselves, not because of all life presents us with, but in spite of it. One of the keys to this may be cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  For example, instead of thinking of all 2020 as ruined, perhaps it would be helpful to count the blessings it brought. I have a friend who shared that she chooses to remember 2020 as the year she had her husband at home, a year that brought them closer as a family and as a couple.  Personally, 2020 brought much of my family back under one roof again. I am thankful for the gift of time with my loved ones, and I find myself even more grateful for and appreciative of those times when we are all together. I am also thankful for all those working on the frontlines, for the doctors; nurses; police; fire, rescue, and EMTs; priests; teachers; and the parents who have added homeschooling tutors to their long list of responsibilities this school year.

Gratitude reminds us of those things we may have taken for granted and helps us focus on all the blessings in our lives. Cultivating gratitude isn’t always easy; it is a skill worthy of developing and practicing each day. 

Overwhelming amounts of research show that gratitude is the most powerful way to increase happiness. Simply developing the habit of writing in a gratitude journal for five minutes a day has been proven to have substantial health benefits. Furthermore, in a research study that examined those who counted their blessings and those that counted their burdens, it was noted that the grateful group reported increased well-being, had better health, exercised more, felt life was better, and had increased optimism. But that is not all. In over 50 studies on gratitude, it was observed that grateful individuals experienced improvements in their health, personality, and career, as well as personally, socially, and emotionally. Some specific benefits included improved health and sleep, increased energy, optimism, altruism, self-esteem, better relationships, and feeling happier, more relaxed, and more resilient. 

So here’s to making 2021 different. Let’s make it a year to become the best version of ourselves, to be present and intentional in every moment. Let’s put what really matters most first. Let’s work hard but strive to love and pray harder. Let’s perform random acts of kindness, help others, give more than we get, say “I love you,” go to church, say “I am sorry,” and not put off until tomorrow what we should get done today. Let’s not take one second for granted, but count our blessings and strive to be grateful for all the beautiful moments, big and small. It may sound like a tall order, but can you imagine what this world would be like if we all strived to become the best version of ourselves?  I pray that you and yours have a safe, wonderful, and blessed new year.

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