Remembering: Little advantages

London street scene, 2005

“Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”    — Benjamin Franklin

Just as it’s often the minor irritations that distract us and wear us down, so too the power of small blessings can transform our lives.  The trick is becoming aware of them. Sunny weather, fragrant blooms, a cup of hot tea on a chilly morning, the delicious smell of food when we’re hungry…what little advantages are brightening your day today?

Update for 11-14-13, one year later:

Those who read this blog frequently will recognize a common theme in this post.  I do a lot of blogging about the small pleasures in life and the everyday things we tend to take for granted. I may seem slightly obsessive about it, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that I’ve often thought my sanity has been preserved by focusing on the small (or not-so-small) blessings that are present no matter how bad things get.

Many years ago, I heard a minister begin a sermon with a series of questions that he suggested we answer on paper, just for our own review.  He didn’t tell us where he was headed with it.  He asked things such as: what is a gadget you use every day? What is the first switch you turn on in the morning?  Who is one of your favorite relatives? What school teacher do you remember most fondly?  And so on.  When he finished, he told us to look over our lists and ask ourselves whether we had ever thought to be thankful for those things.  That sermon is one of the most memorable I have ever heard.  It made me aware that my Walkman, my lamp, my Aunt Peggy and my fourth grade teacher, among countless other people, memories and things, made me a very rich person indeed.

I hope you will share some thoughts about your own “little advantages” with us today.  We might discover more blessings to add to our own lists!

To see the original post with comments, look here.

40 Comments

  1. Matthew 10:29 causes me to notice tiny birds, deep in the forest. I wonder if I am the only human who has ever seen him? Then there are tiny wildflowers (some less than a centimeter in diameter) that I know no human has ever seen- these make me thankful for my special privilege.

    • That really is a neat thought. What I often wonder, when seeing the birds around our home, is whether I have seen them (or they me) before, in past years or months. All of the baby birds that I watched leave the nest, for example. I wonder whether wildlife living in close proximity to humans learn to differentiate among them and even potentially recognize them as “safe” (or at least “safer” than others)? I have often wondered at the truly millions of tiny points of beauty on this planet that are never seen by human eyes at all, including the vast kingdom under the oceans that cover most of the earth. To me, it’s all just to intricate and amazing and delightful to be an accident. Perhaps God looks on all this with a degree of attention not completely unlike that of your grandsons when they are enjoying their Lego creations!

      • I have had a mother hawk come to know me as a friend, so I assume other wild birds have that ability. A true, but funny story comes to mind: a Mocking Bird who frequented a friend’s backyard learned the distinctive whistle he used to call his dog. That bird heckled the dog by “whistling” from one side of the yard; upon which the dog would run over, and look around, puzzled for his master. Then the bird would fly to the other side the yard, and offer the same “whistle”. You guessed it – the poor dog would run to that side of the yard, looking for his master. (And we say “bird-brained”?)

        • Eric, this is hilarious (although I feel sorry for the poor dog). I can just hear that bird laughing to himself (I’m sure it was a “he”) “Heh heh heh. Good Dog. Heh heh heh.”

  2. If I did not say so the first time, I love this photo. I will meet you there for tea next spring. Of course you know that London is one of my all time favorite places to be. I too try to remember the everyday blessings so that I am not so focused on what we don’t have or can’t do. But I did have a big blessing this week in going to see my momma. Hope all is well with you. Keeping you in prayer.

    • Hi Amy, welcome back – and be sure to check out “The Envelope Please” since you are mentioned there! I’m so happy your visit with your Mama went well. YES, let’s definitely plan to meet there for tea whenever we can manage it – maybe even try to find a time when HM can be there with us! Love you.

  3. Ann

    Hi Julia,
    As usual, you’ve given me something to think about. It never crossed my mind to be thankful for my iPad which I use every day or my CPAP machine which helps me get a good night’ sleep plus helps my husband sleep better since I no longer snore😉

    When the photo first appeared on my iPad, my first reaction was O how beautiful!

    Thanks again for continuing your blog.

    How is Jeff? Matt? Grady?

    Ann

    • Hi Ann, I’m so glad you liked the photo! Isn’t it amazing how many little things make our days easier, more beautiful or more fun? I remember the words of the old song I sung at church throughout my childhood: “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Still love that song and all the verses! Jeff, Matt and I are doing well, still in limbo waiting for surgery dates to be set for Jeff, then Matt (based on Jeff’s calendar). Grady is doing well and growing quickly. I can’t wait to see them at Christmas! No new video since the one I posted at Grady’s page of him looking in the mirror – if you haven’t seen that one, you can check it out by clicking on “Grady’s page” and scrolling down to the very bottom of the page. Thanks for being here this morning!

  4. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Thank you for sharing your minister’s sermon and also for your comment, “That sermon is one of the most memorable I have ever heard.” You gave me an idea for an activity to teach my Sunday School children about thankfulness. Not just thankfulness for the big things like their family or their dog, but also for the myriad of little things that we might otherwise take for granted. Like your minister, I’ll begin the lesson with questions that help them see what brightens their day.

    I think that all of us can cultivate within ourselves an attitude of generalized thankfulness, and it can begin when we’re children. First we must notice the little things, become mindful of them, and then we can see them with a thankful attitude. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, which is my favorite holiday of the year, we become more aware of the blessings that surround us. The goal is to feel that same thankfulness all year long. Your quote from Ben Franklin was new to me and I think that his wisdom about what makes us happy rings as true today as it did for people over 200 years ago.

    • Thank you, Judy. In my own struggles with despair or depression over the many medical crises we’ve faced with Matt over the years, I have come to understand that gratitude is perhaps the opposite of despair. The opposite is not joy or euphoria or laughter; it’s gratitude. At least it is for me. When Matt had his first manic episode back in 2000 it was so severe that even the doctors were frightened by it. Once they finally thought to call in a psychiatrist who could explain what was happening (autism rather complicates mania, believe me :-)) we had some answers about what was happening, but it was still scary to see Matt going at hyper speeds, talking literally 24/7 unless we drugged him up to sleep (which we had to do nightly, every few hours). I remember sitting out on our porch swing with him talking continually, and I was feeling so sad, scared and desperate; what if he never got better? As we sat in the swing, I focused on the beautiful green color of the grass (it was August) and the leaves of the trees, the slight rustle of the wind in the trees, and the song of the birds, all of which I was still able to see and hear despite Matt’s chatter. I realized all these things were God’s way of reassuring me that there was still so much that was beautiful and right and OK. Since that time I have been keenly aware of the need to focus on the blessings. There are ALWAYS blessings to be found. If that sounds like Pollyanna, so be it. A gentleman we went to church with many years ago used to begin every public prayer with the words “We thank you that things are as well with us as they are.” Perfect for any situation. Thanks for sharing with us about your Sunday School lesson – I think you are right to begin teaching us at an early age to “find the blessings.” For kids it can become like a game almost, one that will serve them well.

  5. Beth

    An everyday advantage is hearing an old song that instantly transports me to the past. My own personal time-travel machine. 🙂

    • Yes, for me, nothing can more quickly bring back the past than a song. Have you seen this online jukebox? You can click on a specific year and it will play the songs that were popular then! Very cool. Hey I have you on my “to-do” list to send a long-overdue email today – check your email later on! 🙂

  6. Judy in TX

    This is really not a little thing, but when I see the stories on TV of all the wars and fighting going on in other parts of the world, I am so thankful that I live in a country and a city that is safe. I can’t imagine what it would be like to worry about whether your home would be bombed or the water you need is safe to drink.

    • It’s not a little thing, but so many catastrophic events, such as war or natural disasters, encompass countless little things we never think about at all until they’re gone. Reading books such as The Diary of Anne Frank, or for that matter, my friend Ellis Anderson’s book on Hurricane Katrina, Under Surge, Under Siege really bring home how many blessings we take for granted. Who would ever think that a simple thing such as being able to walk out our front door would be something to be thankful for? I appreciate your comment!

  7. Sheila

    Julia, somewhere between advantages and blessings, our two daughters and families live close by. Stephanie is attending a brief Medicare meeting in the upstate today so I had the pleasure of spending last night and this morning with the two teenage granddaughters, Emma and Autumn. After taking them to their schools, I had time to think about how blessed I am, for my health and my ability to be there for my family. I will consider “living close by” a real advantage. I’m thinking of you and your family today and hope all is well. It’s been a very fast week! Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, you are very fortunate to have your family nearby. Jeff’s military career took us to many wonderful homes, but our sons were not able to spend as much time with their grandparents as we would have liked. Yes, it’s been a VERY fast week; in fact, my head is spinning from all that has been going on! I mailed your card and “party favor” today. I hope to finish most everything up tomorrow, except for a few that I still need some info or clarification on. And we’ve been involved in ongoing discussions about scheduling Jeff’s surgery; the picture seems to keep changing in terms of when the OR and doctors are all available at the same time!

  8. Sheila

    Eric, I had a Ring-necked Dove that came to our deck daily for cornbread, even ate it from my hand. Then she appeared with a broken wing in the yard. We were able to transport her to the local animal hospital and they treated her for several months, then called to advise me that she couldn’t lift, so suggested that I foster her. We did! It was an incredible experience.
    She lived in our Florida room for a long time, in a cage, but eventually was allowed freedom to fly in the house. Just when you thought you’d heard it all! 🙂 Sheila

    • Sheila, not surprisingly, I love that story! That bird went to amazing lengths to get itself a diet of steady cornbread! Seriously, I think that would be so fun. Sometime I’ll have to tell you my story about my rescued baby birds (never did know what kind) – the wildlife rescue wouldn’t let me keep them and I asked couldn’t they release them back into our lot and they just smiled at me as if they felt sorry for me and said, “No, but it will be in this area.”

      • Sheila

        Julia, I will send you a picture of “Mildred” nestled in our Christmas tree. 🙂

        • 🙂 Mildred – PERFECT!

    • Sheila, you have learned to be as “harmless as a dove” (Matthew 10:16). Did you hear your foster bird’s voice very often? Was it a “Coo” or more mournful?

      • Sheila

        Oh, it was definitely a coo, and often! It was 3 short coos and pause and long (southern drawl) COOOO. How’s that? 🙂

        • Y’all’s BIRDS even have southern accents!

  9. Sheila

    Oh, I do hope Mr. Carlyle is reading this. He seems to enjoy it when we go GOOFY! 🙂

    • I hope so too, Sheila. He’s been having lots of health problems and hasn’t felt well lately. Daddy, if you’re reading this, just send us a quick hi!

      • I will say “Hi” for Dad. His health is relatively good of late – he is simply preoccupied with TWO new toys. Sheila, you gave a perfect description. In Laredo, Texas we had the little short-tailed Mexican doves. Every afternoon they’d gather around a grove of Mesquite trees and join in a chorus of: “Cooooosiesta”.

        • Thanks for the update on Daddy. Mom almost always says he’s doing well, but as I mentioned, I’m afraid she’s in hyper-positive mode to try to keep my spirits up. 🙂

      • Sheila

        Coming back to thank you for the update on your daddy. I have so enjoyed the photos that you have shared of the family gathering for your parents 50th anniversary. What a beautiful setting!

        • Thank you Sheila, it was a magical time that we remember fondly. Eric gets the credit for putting it all together and getting Mama and Daddy the world’s most fabulous view!

  10. That is a lovely idea! I saw my 2nd grade teacher this summer-she made a huge impact on my life. You have inspired me to write her a letter telling her how thankful I am for her influence.

    • Oh, I hope you do! I was so thrilled to see Ms. Rodriguez after all these years, and she truly looked so much as she did nearly 50 years ago, it was amazing. I think your teacher will greatly appreciate your letter. They do make such a difference in our lives. Those who do a great job are worthy of our heartfelt thanks!

  11. Nice post! I like having zippers that work and buttons that stay on–for silly starters! But my gratitude today included the chill blasts of Nov. wind on my daily walk about the neighborhood, taking in the changing colors of fallen leaves. Above were thickening clouds and below, moss-lined sidewalks. The rains cometh and in OR. it is good, welcome–at least for me.

    • Wow, zippers and buttons, SO TRUE but I had not thought of that! Not silly at all. It seems to me that buttons nowadays fall off at the slightest pull. I don’t miss those old metal zippers that used to snag so easily. I think autumn in Oregon would be lovely. We only visited there once but have always wanted to go back.

  12. Good Morning Julia, I see I did visit last January and look how many visitors you have today ! I’m going to be thankful for my flat iron today, LOL My hair is banana’s this morning. It’s the central heating, which I’m very thankful for too since it’s gotten so very cold here. I had Mr McFarlene as a 6th grade teacher, I remember him laughing a lot. We were discussing Queen Elizabeth one day in Social Studies and I contributed this little diddy, “oh yah, but did you know she’s just a forehead here?”…brilliant right? I remember him laughing till he had tears in his eyes. Of course I meant ‘figurehead’. I’m thankful for Mr McFarlane’s sense of humour. Have a beautiful day xK

    • That is one totally expensive forehead! But at least your remark was respectful. Around here, our government officials are much more often labeled as, shall we say, less mentionable parts of the anatomy. But I agree, far better to have a teacher laugh with you than correct you in a snide way. My hair is far less frizzy in the winter since the humidity is lower, but then static is a problem. Good thing we have little implements to turn “bad hair days” into “almost acceptable or at least not hilarious hair days.” I remember in the late 60’s people used to use real irons (the kind you press clothes with) on their hair!

      • Good Grief, I currently have a fair size scald on my wrist from, (hows this for anal) ironing the bed skirt on the weekend…LOL. I changed the skirt and thought it was too wrinkled. Rather than take it off again, I was going to just try and iron in place 😛 I hate to think of the injuries I’d sustain from ironing my hair..HA

        • Would you believe I have done THAT VERY THING? (Minus the burn, that is.) I remember it seemed to work for me, but I may have used a pressing ham under it. In fact, that might be the only time I ever used that pressing ham! Let’s just say that my iron and I have only a passing acquaintance. One of my friends cracked me up one time when our kids were young – her sister asked if she would mind her giving their daughter a toy ironing board for Christmas. My friend said “No, that’s fine except she won’t have any idea what it is, since she has never seen one.” 🙂

  13. HA! I’m going to get one of those Ironing hams. I hadn’t heard them referred to as that but it’s the perfect word. Your friend has a terrific sense of humour. Alys and I have talked about this too. Jim wears collared shirts most days and as hard as I try, I either don’t get them out of the drier on time or let them stack up until he runs out of things to wear 😀 So they almost always need a touch up. He’s said, “oh hon, they look fine” but his office friends know I’m at home and so I tell hime, “I can’t have people think I’m asleep at the wheel”…LOL.

    • I have NEVER been able to iron shirts very well, so Jeff just got to where he would take them to the cleaners for laundering – it’s way less expensive than dry cleaning and they press them RIGHT – but now that they wear BDU’s (or whatever they are called now) most of the time, he hardly ever has to worry about that anyway. Plus they pretty much change into scrubs once they get to work, I think. That’s great with me since the hospital has to do all the laundry!

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