2020 Grateful 26: Counting Sheep

I started writing the Grateful series back in 2012. With so many years of practice, you’d think being grateful would come naturally to me by now. But no. I still have to work on it. I still have to remind myself that there is something to be grateful for in everything.

In that first post, Grateful 52, I wrote: #

I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if more people took the time to give thanks – to themselves and to others. Thanks for the little things that make life worth living. Thanks for the people in our lives who keep us sane. And thanks for karma – who, will, at the end of the day, make sure that all wrongs are righted.

Something interesting has happened over the years. People associate me with gratefulness. They send me videos and articles and links to posts on gratitude. And while I know the science behind it all and am reasonably well versed in the mechanics of it all, there’s still the occasional surprise.

A few weeks back, the inimitable GP sent me a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal that discusses the need for mental resilience, particularly as COVID-19 is refashioning our ideas of normalcy.

Feelings of gratitude activate three main areas in the brain: the brain stem region that produces dopamine, the primary reward chemical; the reward center, where dopamine is released; and the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps us focus on information that is relevant and communicates between the brain’s thinking and emotional circuits, says Alex Korb, a neuroscientist. “Your psychological well-being depends less on the things that happen to you and more on the things you pay attention to,” says Dr. Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. “Gratitude will shift your brain’s attention.”

But, for me at least, despite years of conscious effort to be grateful instead of whinging and complaining about my lot, it still takes effort. When I notice that I’m bitching more than usual about something, I have to do an about-turn and find something in the situation to be grateful for. And it ain’t always easy or satisfying because I love a good wallow.

The most interesting part of the article was about Irving Berlin and how his doctor advised him to count his blessings as a way to get over his stress-induced insomnia. Taking the advice on board, he wrote a song about it.

I’ve never gotten the hang of counting sheep to put me to sleep, but coming up with 10 things to be grateful for is a sure-fire way to nod me off.


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