Imagine Thomas Jefferson, or even Natalie Wood, coming back to life today and seeing all that we have. They'd be stunned by the abundance and ease with which all of us live our lives (and that's true even in this trying economy). Yet we barely notice the "wow" factor, taking our amazing world for granted -- or worse, filling our brains with thoughts of what's gone wrong.
I'm a big believer in the physical, emotional and spiritual power of appreciation. For one thing, it just plain feels better to think good thoughts than bad or neutral ones. For another, I'm convinced that focusing on what's working in your life brings more of it to you. Whether by the "law of attraction" or simply that identifying what you enjoy motivates you to go after more of it, there's a greatness behind gratitude. "Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good," Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, echoing this notion that all gray matter is best spent pondering the positive.
Don't think you have much to appreciate as the new year begins? Here's my back-of-the-envelope list of fabulous things to applaud. No doubt once you give it some thought you can easily add 50 -- or 500 -- more.
Five seconds after pushing a button, a classic book or a new bestseller appears on a screen in our hands.
Brain-fog on the name of an actor, astronaut or anarchist? Pull a device from a pocket, tap a few keys -- and, voila! (Thereby saving many a dinnertime argument.)
"Mail" something to the other side of the world and the person reads and responds in seconds.
See what's happening inside a eagle's nest or at a local city commission meeting while sitting in PJs at home.
When we're short on cash, money flies out of the wall of the bank -- even at 2 a.m.
Or go for weeks without any cash, instead tossing around a little piece of plastic.
Drive in the wrong direction and a gizmo in your car (or on your phone) yells to spin you around, miles before you might have noticed.
Cameras on satellites in space let us see pictures of foreign galaxies, or our own streets.
circulate our blood,
remove waste and
grow new cells all day every day without trying.
Legs take us everywhere we want to go.
Fingers write, chop, type, fold, feed and do a million other things we ask, without fail.
Should something burst or shrivel inside us, doctors open us up and fix it.
Stick tiny pieces of plastic in your eyes and suddenly you see brilliantly.
Or, have laser surgery and skip the plastic altogether.
Our life expectancy is so far beyond what people could have imagined even 100 years ago.
Our physiology includes the ability to have delicious, mind-blowing sex.
Sex that no longer inevitably leads to pregnancy.
We have flour without growing/milling our own wheat,
sugar without physically chopping down the cane,
and veggies without tending and weeding all day.
Not to mention water for drinking piped right into our homes.
Beautiful, various foods are available at huge supermarkets (Is anything more gorgeous than a market produce section?) -- a far cry from the tiny corner store my grandparents owned.
A kitchen gizmo keeps food frozen or cold.
Another heats a meal without our having to gather wood and start a fire. (You probably used one today without realizing how awesome they are.)
We can eat when we don't feel like cooking -- something our ancestors could not do.
And select from Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Asian fusion, American...
We can turn a few ingredients into a molten chocolate soufflé -- then top it with ice cream!
Our homes stand strong, regardless of the wind, snow, or sleet bearing down.
What we call a starter house would not long ago have been termed a mansion.
Water runs into our bathtubs and showers, enabling us to be the cleanest people ever on this planet.
We sleep in comfy beds, covered with clean sheets, cozy blankets and soft pillows.
When it's freezing out, we stay toasty inside.
Scorching out? AC keeps us cool.
We needn't get wet in the rain, thanks to a roof -- or those portable roofs we call umbrellas.
Our big daily dilemma is deciding from our vast selection of clothing what to put on, not that we have literally nothing to wear.
Shoes not only protect our feet and help keep them moving -- they're gorgeous to boot.
People and pleasantries:
If you're in a relationship, you have a partner with many gifts (even if you sometimes overlook them); if not, you know there's someone out there waiting for you.
You have fabulous friends whom you can always rely on.
With a (mostly) safe society, we move about with ease.
Thanks to traffic rules (and people who obey them), we glide through each intersection. (Ever been to India?)
Your neighbors are wonderful. (If you don't know them, make it a priority to get closer this year.)
Old technology that should still astound us:
Television sets, where (at least occasionally) interesting entertainment is at the click of a button.
Cars get us farther in an hour than we used to get in days.
Planes fly up in the sky!
Books transport us to another world or enlighten us that that world exists in the first place.
Yes, we can now email and Skype. But the ability to pick up the phone wherever you are and hear the voice of someone on the other side of the world is still incredible.
Flush toilets. If you haven't appreciated yours lately, it's time to ponder the alternative.
Meryl Davids Landau is the author of the spiritual women's novel Downward Dog, Upward Fog, which is recommended by Yoga Journal, YogaDork and Elephant Journal blogs, and the Science of Mind national newsletter. ForeWord Reviews calls the novel "an inspirational gem that will appeal to introspective, evolving women." Read excerpts at www.DownwardDogUpwardFog.com. Meryl also writes for O: the Oprah Magazine, Whole Living, Reader's Digest and other national magazines.
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