Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thoughts on Gratitude and Regret

"Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some." Charles Dickens

I was thinking about the topics of regret and gratitude this week as I worked on the first draft of my small town mystery and plumbed the depths of a character that has deep regrets about earlier events in her life. In my own life I have known people who have been paralyzed by their past, unable to get beyond some deep regret or mistake they made that cost them dearly. Some become bitter, others simply live with unhappiness.

On another end of that scale, I have known people who made mistakes, acknowledged them, carried on, and counted their blessings.

I find gratitude is a much better road. I'm coming up on yet another birthday--for which I am grateful--and perhaps that is another reason I've taken some moments to consider the topic of regrets and blessings.

Teaching American Literature in high school over several decades, I was always fascinated by Benjamin Franklin. I taught several sections of his Autobiography which I'd read several times in college. He began the book at age sixty-five, smiling a bit at his youthful naivete. He wished to live a life of moral perfection, never making an error. Even today I smile at his belief that mankind can be perfect. And yet years earlier, in 1728, when he was only twenty-two, he wrote "A Printer's Epitaph" in which he acknowledged his imperfections and believed that, after death, they would be "Corrected and amended By the Author."

Trying to reconcile these two very different outlooks, I would postulate that the older Franklin was his own best PR agency in later years.

Even so, I find it difficult to live a life of regret over past mistakes. Better to acknowledge the past or apologize, go on, and try to do better.

A blessings bracelet
This week I was playing cards in a bridge club and noticed my partner's bracelet. She said it was a "blessings bracelet" she had received as a gift. The idea is to count the pearls on the bracelet each time you put it on and acknowledge as many blessings as pearls.

Blessings can be children, grandchildren, pets, spouses, friends, events, health, or any other person or item that you count in gratitude. Psychologists will tell you that gratitude is part of a spiritual life, a full life, and a balanced life.

I went on the internet and typed in "blessings bracelet." Up came several sites where I could buy such a bracelet. And I did. I have noticed, since wearing this bracelet and counting my own blessings, that a certain calmness and happiness result.

Of course I am not advocating that life is wonderful and everyone should be drowning in happiness. But I do find that expressing thanks and gratitude is essential even in the most difficult events of life.

This is what some noted people have said about gratitude:

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." Epictetus

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." H.U. Westermayer

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." Albert Schweitzer. 

"For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, For love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves." Henry Ward Beecher 

Gratitude is a healthy habit to cultivate; even in the darkest of times we can find something for which to be grateful.

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