Gratitude is an essential part of my survival. Let me introduce myself: I am a 67-year-old woman with a bipolar disorder, a spinal cord injury since 1975, an amputated left leg following a severe pressure sore in 2008, kidney disease requiring dialysis and breast cancer this summer that ruled out the possibility of getting a kidney transplant.
Plenty of food for a pity feast. But I also earned a PhD in clinical psychology, worked for over 30 years as a school psychologist until my retirement, have been married to Norm for 44 years, have a 32-year-old daughter who got married last spring, have a sister and a brother in California, enjoy keeping in touch with many friends and relatives, stay involved with a supportive synagogue community and live in a comfortable home with 2 elderly cats (we had to put down the third last summer). Such a long list of things to be grateful for, and those are only the largest, most obvious things. Using a wheelchair and dealing with all of my health issues is not easy, and as I get older, I also have to deal with reduced energy and strength. Yet I have so much to be thankful for. At the end of each day, I reflect on three things. First, I think about what happened that day that made the day especially worthwhile, what I am really grateful for. Very often it is people I saw or talked to. Sometimes it is special places I went or activities I did. The time I spend with my husband is something I value highly and never take for granted. It is often on my gratitude list. My daughter, too, is a ray of sunshine, and I am most appreciative when she has time in her busy life to spend with me, in person or on the phone. Next, I reflect on what did not go so well that day, something I would want to change. I think about whether I could have handled the situation any differently, any better. Finally, I consider whether I did anything that day to help others. That could be as simple as doing something for my husband, calling a friend who is sick or alone or making a contribution to a charitable organization. It’s so important to extend beyond myself and have an impact, however small, on the world around me. I am grateful to have such an opportunity.
For me, being optimistic comes naturally. Maybe I learned it from my social worker mother who repeatedly told us, long before it became a cliché, to look at the part of the glass that is half full, not the part that is half empty. However, moodiness also comes naturally. When I am in a not-so-optimistic mood, I try to remind myself of some of the things I am grateful for. I also try to take care of my own body by eating properly and getting plenty of sleep. Seeking out other people and talking with them can also be beneficial.
The future has so many unknowns that there is no guarantee that what works now will always be the best answer, but so far, I have found that gratitude keeps me going, keeps me connected, and helps me appreciate the things that are truly meaningful in my life.
Paula Fox received a B.A. in psychology from Brandeis University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from University of Minnesota in 1972. After recovering from a spinal cord injury in 1975, she spent over 30 years working as a school psychologist in Robbinsdale Area Schools until retiring in 2009. When Shelly Christensen established the Minneapolis Jewish Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities, Fox served on her community advisory committee. She has been very active in her synagogue, Adath Jeshurun, currently serving as co-chair of the Inclusion Committee. She is married to Norman Fox and has one daughter, age 32.