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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Another reason why it's important to count your blessings

I was reading this study the other day, about how feeling "poor" can lead to depression. Now I don't mean a case of the "I wish I had that handbag, boat, vacation, dinner out" depression. But depression with a big D.

Low socioeconomic status is one of the predictors of mental health problems. The reach of economic-related depression, goes beyond those individuals who we typically define as living in poverty (unable to meet their basic human needs with their income). Relative poverty, or looking around and seeing that your neighbor has enough money for more worldly luxuries than you, can lead to mental health issues, as well.

The haves and the have-nots

There will always be someone who experiences a higher standard of material living than we do. That's just a fact for all but one person in this world. But where you live can affect how much relative poverty exists for you.

Some states have a greater divide between wealthy and poor, than other states. Utah and Alaska have the least division between wealthy and poor. There are more folks right there in the middle, economically, in those two states.

The two states/districts with the highest level of income inequality are New York and the District of Columbia (Washington DC). When you think about NYC, there's the Wall Street tycoons, and then there are the many service-oriented/lower wage workers. In DC, you have the upper-echelon government members, and again the lower-paid service sector of employees. It would be tough on one's ego to live there, and be in that lower tier.

Even if you don't live in either NY or DC, one's own community can leave a person feeling "poor".

"Huge income gaps in a community can make people feel impoverished, even when they are not poor by economic standards - and blaming themselves for their "failure" may add to depression risk". (

This resulting depression is more prevalent among women than men. Many jobs traditionally held by women, (education, childcare, home healthcare), don't reward the employee as well, financially as those positions traditionally held by men. Women may work as hard, or harder, in their profession, have the same amount, or greater level, of education, but still not be compensated financially to the level experienced by men. Hard work that is not fully recognized or rewarded leads to frustration, perceived lack of achievement and depression. Doesn't sound very promising, does it?

How do I deal with our relative poverty and the potential for depression?

So, what's the answer for us right now. Being aware that this could become an issue for me, just helps me to be more vigilant with my own stinkin' thinkin'. I find help in counting my blessings. Our family may be struggling to pay for our current expenses, right now, but when I take a world-view, I can see how "wealthy" we really are.

For the most part, we are experiencing a very high level of physical health. Women used to die in child birth. Babies often died in the first year or two of their lives. My grandmother's baby brother died as a child, from something that is now "fixable" with surgery. A great aunt of mine suffered with the effects of polio for her entire life. When was the last time you heard of someone contracting polio?

Even on a very tight budget, we have some of the technology that enhances our leisure time -- television, computers, cell phones, speedy methods of leisure travel (can you imagine traveling across the US by covered wagon?).

All 3 of my kids will have university educations. Even with universities becoming more and more expensive, we will be able to do this. Higher education used to be limited to the upper class, and not just because of economics, but socially limited as well.

We live in a nice (and paid-for) home, in a low-crime area, and have heat, food and clothing.

These are some of the big things that I remind myself of when feeling "poor". But everyday, I can find small moments of gratitude that boost my outlook.
  • We have a garden that is allowing me to pick fresh strawberries for breakfast each day this month. 
  • Even on a small grocery budget, there is still room for ingredients to make treats for me and my family. 
  • On Sunday, my in-laws loaned us a bag full of videos/dvds to watch this next month. 
  • I may not be able to buy a bouquet of flowers for the house, but the other day I, once again, cut a bouquet of 10 pink, hybrid tea roses, now gracing the mantel of our fireplace. 
  • My daughters kept their GPAs high enough to qualify for their merit-based scholarships, covering half of their tuition for this next year. 
  • And all three of my kids are gainfully employed. 
  • My computer died completely two weeks ago. But my family has graciously allowed me time on their assorted computers, until I can finish saving to buy a new one for myself.  And again, even on a tighter budget, there is room for this savings.
These are all physical, material things that don't even touch on the emotional/spiritual blessings I feel each day.

Some days, I do feel "poor" and depression is just waiting at the door for me to let it in. On those days, I have to think up a long, long list of blessings to count. Other days, just seeing the silver lining in "my" cloud lifts me up. (No computer of my own, right now, means more time to do other things. Cutting flowers from my own garden gets me outdoors, even in the June gloom. Keeping a garden may be work, but it's also exercise, and much more fun than walking on a treadmill for an hour each day.)

I'm not saying that we can just talk our way out of real depression. Mental health is vitally important. And real depression needs attention. But for many of us, keeping a gratitude journal, whether just a mental list or actually writing it down, can mean the difference between a positive or negative outlook on our own lives.

The other lesson from this study, I learned, is this. It's not productive to compare yourself to others, whether it's belongings, talents, health or family. Our lives are what we have. We can improve many elements of our own lives. But comparing ourselves to others seems like a huge waste of time, to me.

We had a contractor working on our house about 5 years ago. I'd see something in a magazine and come to him and say, "I wish we could use XX design/material here". He'd reply, "it is what it is. XX won't work here, so lets think of something that will." That way of thinking works in many areas of our lives.

And finally, I call on this prayer, often, in my life.

The Serenity Prayer,  written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

What blessings are you counting today?

sources used for this article: 


  1. Great post Lili! This is something that we all needed to hear! Words of encouragement are always good for the soul. Have a great week! Lona

    1. Thank you, Lona! Hope your week is going well, and the heat isn't too much this week!

    2. The heat and humidity are unbearable. But I am getting green beans, tomatoes, and okra out of the garden, so I am counting my blessings. ;)

    3. There's always something to be grateful for. At least there's the fresh produce to enjoy this week!

  2. It is hard to take every thought captive and make the decision to count blessings. I speak from experience since I'm a human. LOL From what I have gathered from past posts your family made the choice to live with less in order to appropriate the income in certain directions. But having made those choices doesn't necessarily mean you don't struggle with it at times. My husband reminds me of that every so often. We always have a choice as to what we'll dwell on and think about too.

    Very good post! Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Hi Linda,
      You're right we are making choices with our income. For us, it's very important to get our kids through university without any loans, and we're saving fast and hard for retirement, as disability could put us there sooner than planned. Still we have options, and I remind myself of that regularly.

      But the key for me really is in finding all the good in my day, and being thankful. I loved the Veggie Tales song, "A thankful heart is a happy heart". (It plays in my head often.)

      Hope you're having a great day!

  3. Thank you for the reminder. It is so easy to get distracted into thinking that I need this or that. One of the greatest things we can develop is gratitude and I'm grateful for your thoughts today.

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      Thank you for your kind words. It IS easy to fall into thinking we need or deserve the latest thing. I do it all the time, and have to remind myself how unhealthy that way of thinking is for me.

      I think when we change our perceived view of our world, we open doors for ourselves that we didn't even know were there.

      I hope your day is full of blessings!

  4. Ha! Waking up to a basement seeping water this morning (we had at least 4 inches of rain in a 24 hour period) is enough to send me into "why do we live in this stupid house ... " mutter, mutter, mutter. And then I started thinking of the people to the north of you who had the horrible mudslide experience ... well, we are all well and healthy and we have our home to live in ... there are many who would love to have that ...

    It's funny that you mentioned comparisons. I have been learning (relearning?) over the past few years that when I compare my circumstances with others, I either am very dissatisfied with my life or, if it's an area where things are going well, I start to take credit for how wonderful and brilliant I am. I love your contractor's mindset--if something doesn't work, think up something that will.

    Good thoughts. Thanks!

    1. Hi Kris,
      Ack! I recall you went through this last year, right? How long will it take until it dries out? Do you have to pump water out? That's a lot of rain! I hope the water recedes quickly, and you can put this behind you.

      Yeah, I take credit for my "greatness" at times. I also easily fall into thinking that others must have more "greatness" than me. When a lot of times, its just luck, being in the right place at the right time, and God used that to bless them. It doesn't mean that God loves me any less, or I work less or possess fewer skills. My blessings will come in different places.

      Have a great day!

  5. On a "normal" year, we don't flood. We've had two "non-normal" years in a row. Apparently this past Tuesday was the 3rd highest rainfall in our area since they've been keeping records. We got a month's worth of rain in a day. And tomorrow we're supposed to be getting more.

    We haven't experienced flooding in the summer, so I don't know how long it will take to dry out. I'm irritated with myself because we didn't take precautions and ended up with a wet area rug. It's drying in the sun on our driveway right now so all's well that ends well, but this was something we should have anticipated and acted on, and that's when I get hard on myself. We certainly aren't the only ones with flooding so I can't feel too sorry for myself! Here's the great thing about where we live, though ... after things were more or less cleaned up, I took my children to the mobile library that our school runs to keep kids reading during the summer months. Two teachers that my children have had were volunteering on the book bus, and one offered us the use of some sort of high-volume dryer she has and another offered to come over to help us any way she could. Their kindness is an up-side to the situation!

    1. I meant to say, third highest rainfall in June!

    2. I'll be praying that the next round of rain goes easier on you.

      Here's another way to look at your rug situation. So you didn't think to get the rug out of the way in time. Now that you've had this experience of needing to haul it out to the driveway, it will serve as a reminder so you do get it out of the way the next time. Wouldn't it be awful if we never learned from our past mishaps? And at least it wasn't nailed down carpeting!

      How wonderful of those two teachers! Sometimes feeling the sense of community in a bad situation lessens the negative impact. And I hope you and your kids got some good books to read!

      There are people in this world who do care when life is giving us one lemon after another.

  6. What a wonderful post. Don't know if you're familiar with the comedian Stephen Colbert or not, but back before he was uber-famous, he gave an interview in which he spoke really candidly about his personal life. When he was about 10 years old, his father and 2 of his brothers were killed in a plane crash. He spoke about the experience and the interviewer asked him how he felt about it now. And he said that he felt grateful.

    I thought it was a pretty amazing way to look at life - sort of getting beyond the good/bad paradigm that we so often try to parse our experiences into. I mean, I think we often approach gratitude by saying go ourselves "OK... I've got these 'bad' things to deal with, but I've got 'good' things too." But to be able to feel gratitude for ALL of the things life throws your direction is pretty amazing.

    Anyhow, that's something I've been striving for in my life... to realize that even the experiences that I tend to categorize as "bad" have tremendous value, so I need to be grateful for all of them.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Yes, I do know who Stephen Colbert is. I enjoy his particular brand of comedy. But I didn't know about his background. I am always in awe of someone who can take such tragic events in their life and find the blessing in it.

  7. Wonderful post, Lilli. While I am not in NYC, I am close, being in Fairfield county, CT-near the "gold coast" whose reference is to the gold or wealth of those who can afford to live down county. Even though we are more to the North, affluenza is in this town,and it's particularly hard on the younger kids sometimes. The have's vs the have nots. Materialistic values which I don't espouse. Yes, we are in a rental. And it's fine, although not our own. We have a home to stay in, food on the table, etc. We live very modestly so that we CAN again own our own (modest) home and be as self relient as possible (gardening etc). We got a new to Mom car-a used Prius while many will only drive brand new, Europeen cars. I am loving the $20-$25 for gas/week, lower taxes, lower insurance, etc. My priorities are different. : )

    1. Hi Carol,
      Yes, I expect that you feel it there where you live. You bring up a good point with kids. Somewhere about middle school to early high school, kids begin to notice the financial advantages some kids experience. The smart phones, the luxury vacations, cars for the teens, etc. I think, as parents, we need to keep an eye on how our kids are handling these material pressures, and keep reminding them of how valuable they are as individuals and that "things" don't make a person. In the end, you will have demonstrated to your kids how to set goals and how to achieve them, as well as how to value the non-materialistic aspects of life. I think that will result in emotionally healthy, mature young adults.

      I look at my own kids, working full-time during the summers, and part time, as classes allow, during the school term. Very few of their classmates are working full time this summer. We were talking about this just last night at dinner. I pointed out to them how they are building work experience to put on a resume, making contacts, developing solid work habits, earning part of their way through university, and setting aside some money for when they graduate, so they can get a start in life.

      And for what it's worth, I'd love to be driving your Prius! My son bought himself a used Prius a year ago and loves how economical it is to drive. When we do replace our car, it will be with a hybrid or other highly fuel efficient car. If you can buy a car that gets 50 MPG, why on earth would someone want to drive a car that only gets 25 MPG?! (Besides needing more seating, I get that for some families.) I'm just trying to convince my son to drive us someplace on vacation this summer, so we can halve the fuel costs! It cost us $350 last summer to drive to California and back.

  8. A good post and a good discussion to go with it. A couple of things--women are much more prone to depression that men. We need to be more aware and seek help when needed. I love your contractors quote, and being able to be grateful for all experiences is a goal for all of us. When I am having a hard time, I try to remember that every experience brings new insights.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Do you know why it's believed that women suffer from depression more than men?
      I also remind myself that everything that I have been through has brought me to the person I am, and the life I have today, good and bad. If trading away the bad meant giving up what's good, I wouldn't do it. So in that way, I find myself grateful even for the hard times.

    2. I think the incidence of depression in women more than men has something to do with our brain chemistry and shifting hormones. The differences start showing up at puberty and are greatest during our childbearing years.

  9. Thank you for this post! Very enlightening. This is a topic we talk about a lot in my house. Other children say to my children they are poor because they don't follow latest fashion, wear brand clothes or have the latest games. I always say that if I want to, I can buy things like that, but the big question is do I want to buy it? My children are very environmental and health conscious. While other children are trying to be original, the real original in style and thinking are my children. They are now even design their clothes and they want me to make that :S Poverty is between your ears, is what I always say!

    1. Hi Maria,
      I will be quoting you -- I love your saying, "poverty is between the ears"!! That is so true, it's all how you think about circumstances.


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