Judaism is full of blessings. Traditionally, Jews say blessings before we eat (a different blessing for each category of food). We say blessings after we eat. There is a special blessing to say when one smells a flower. There is a blessing for hearing good news, and another for hearing bad news. There is a blessing for wearing new clothes. There is a blessing for lightning, thunder and rainbows. There is a special blessing for seeing the ocean. There is one for seeing anything especially beautiful (including people). We have another blessing for ugly or strange-looking people. (Perhaps they need it even more than the beautiful people?) There is also a blessing for when one meets a scholar.
One fundamental aspect of Judaism is for each of us to approach God’s world with a spirit of gratitude and appreciation. Saying a blessing is meant to remind us to approach the world with that spirit. The ideal is to try to say 100 blessings each day, each one for something separate and specific. Have you ever tried it? I have and it’s hard!
It turns out that Judaism and positive psychology have something in common. One of the suggestions that come out of positive psychology about how to live a happy life is to keep a gratitude journal. It is simple. Every day, write down the things for which you are grateful. You might be surprised to find out that writing down even five things every day might really make a difference in the way you feel. This works when things are going well in your life. It also helps tremendously when things are not going so well.
I was recently quite ill, now I’m better. (I’m grateful for that.) It did not make me feel better to search out what I might have done wrong that could have made me ill. It did not make me feel better to pretend that it wasn’t really bad, it was. It did make me feel better to search for blessings. How can a person possibly find gratitude in a serious illness? How about the following:
I am grateful for the skill of my doctors.
I am grateful that we live in a culture affluent enough that some people can afford to spend 35 years training to become specialty surgeons rather than having to go out and plough the fields.
I am grateful that years of expensive medical research went into developing ways to make me better.
I am grateful for all the people who prayed that I would be healed.
I am grateful for all the people who cooked dinner for my family when I could not do it. (Friends cooked for us for five weeks!)
I am grateful for the people who organized all the community cooking.
I am grateful that I have a job with paid sick days.
I am grateful to the members of my union who donated sick days so that my family did not lose income when I ran out of sick days.
I am grateful for all of the people who sent cards or flowers or who called or visited to cheer me up.
I am most grateful that I have a family who loves me and who helped me through a long and difficult illness.
RABBI JACQUELINE ROMM SATLOW is the director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life and coordinator for Jewish Culture at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. This originally appeared as part of Soul Sightings in the UMass Dartmouth student newspaper, The Torch.