Many years ago I wrote a letter to a friend complaining about my lot in life--three babies in as many years, a husband who didn't understand me, the never-ending chores of dishes, clothes, kids, dust and more of it. This litany of miserable complaints surely guaranteed an equally long letter of needed condolence, I thought.Shortly thereafter I received a terse but understanding note in which my friend (and indeed she was more of a friend than I realized at the time) asked me to play a game every night. Rather than count the proverbial sheep, she wanted me to count my blessings. She explained that if I made this a habit, before I realized it I would no longer be tempted to indulge in self-pity.
It wasn't the answer I expected, but I decided to try her suggestion. To reinforce this thought I also decided to consider the misfortunes of others. I'm not sadistically inclined, but I felt that this would help me see how truly fortunate I am. I was like the man with no shoes who felt sorry for himself until he met a man who had no feet.
My usual trend of thought was to stack up other people's spectacular successes against my even more spectacular failures; to see my neighbor's grass a luscious green, but my own a dull brown.
Since my friend's wise advice, two more little ones have joined the family, and of course the work has increased along with the too-rapidly passing years. However, the game of counting my blessings instead of sheep has paid off in wonderful ways. I no longer waste valuable time on rationalization and self-pity; and the grass is green on my side of the fence, too!
Number one on my list of blessing-counters is health. True, I may be tired, I may have a temporary setback due to a bothersome cold and so on; but what a relief to know that these at least can be alleviated and eventually cured. Whenever I feel like throwing in the towel because of fatigue or a pain, I count the blessings of having doctors and their medical knowledge to help me. My marriage also has been strengthened through playing this kind of sheep-counting game. Someone has wisely said that the thoughts we go to sleep with are the ones which etch themselves into our lives.
Perhaps counting some of these "sheep" just before you go to sleep will be helpful to you also:
APPRECIATION. This is the stepchild of the human race. We can soon learn to overlook the so-called faults of others--whether in spouse, children, in-laws, or fellow workers--if we can be large enough in thought, word, and deed to acknowledge their many fine qualities. Familiarity, unfortunately, breeds indifference, which is even worse than contempt. Yet, it is said that "He enjoys much who is thankful for little; a grateful mind is both a great and happy mind" (Anonymous).
FRIENDSHIP. Thank God for those who cherish us, whose day is actually made more happy and bearable by our presence. The ability to make and keep friends is yet another blessing we take for granted. As Joseph Fort Newton said, "People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges." We should work continually to tear down the wall of apathy and inattention, and build the bridge of empathy and concern for others. If we have no real friendships then today is the time to start their construction.
ACHIEVEMENT. This is yet another blessing we assume is ours with but little effort--not only our own, but that of our family, too. However, achievement is subjective and relative to our values in life. Too, we can learn to give credit where credit is due, while still being grateful for our own talents.
INTEGRITY. This is the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts: self-control, dignity, truthfulness, loyalty, sincerity....
FREEDOM. This is such a great blessing if we understand it in its truest sense: freedom to master ourselves, to harness our energies into worthwhile and lasting goals, and to pass on to our children a heritage of nobility of mind and purpose. We are so used to freedom in every area of life that the discipline of positive and constructive mental, emotional and spiritual endeavors does not come overnight.
These are only a few of the "sheep" we can observe jumping over the fence of consciousness each night. We can add or subtract according to our own needs and tastes; but each of us can quietly turn from sheep of doubt, resentment and self-pity, and count only the blessings of confidence, hope, love and truth. This is the game that brings a good night's sleep, and makes us proficient in cherishing the good in each day's living.
Published in Science of Mind, 1971.