Joyful Musings – November 2011

Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC

Take Time to Say Thanks


JoyOur new puppy has no sense of gratitude. No appreciation for how good she’s got it. She’s six months old and has never known hunger, pain, or abuse.

How very different from our last two dogs!  Maggie came to us at about three years old. She’d been living in the streets and survived on her wits and her speed. Looking at her 100-plus pound body now, it is difficult to remember the bony 67-pound dog we brought home from the shelter. Food was precious to her, and she devoured every tidbit she found in case scarcity should come her way again. When I took her for a walk or even a long hike she’d  lope ahead and quickly return, never letting me out of her sight for more than a moment. Maggie appreciated her new home and its comfort and wanted to be sure she would never end up alone on the street again.

Greta, a lanky, cowering Lab of about 18 months, had been dumped at the shelter by a family that had badly abused her. If we spoke loudly or even looked at her too long, she’d cringe in anticipation of a feared kick or thwack. Receiving loving caresses and attention in her new home with us, she was so grateful and devoted she’d sit adoringly by my side like she was velcroed to my leg.

When Greta died, my husband wanted to raise a puppy who knew only love and kindness. Born on the full moon, Luna hit the jackpot at only four weeks old. The four-pound handful of fur he brought home has grown into a 60-pound barrel of exuberance. Even when we discipline her with a loud “No!” she barely recognizes it as more than a gentle suggestion. She accepts the abundance of food as her birthright, a house full of toys as her due, and everyone she meets as a friend with never a consideration of  life being any other way. I’ve taken to calling her “Brat” as I watch her growing up with an attitude of greedy entitlement.

This unbridled expectation of all good things is acceptable in a puppy. It’s not so acceptable, however, when people expect and receive without gratitude or appreciation. Human happiness does not come from getting something we didn’t have but rather from recognizing and appreciating what we do have.

It’s an amazing fact: whatever you focus on grows bigger. Pay attention to all those things you don’t have or can’t do, and your life will feel very empty. You’ll soon suffer from a pitiful ailment I call PLUM disease: Poor Little Unfortunate Me. Pay attention to what you have, however, and it magically grows bigger and more valuable.

In this season of thanksgiving, there are many ways you can practice gratitude. Here’s a few simple ideas:

Make a point of saying thank you to others throughout your day. You’ll be surprised how many special things people have said or done when you take time to really notice them.

Take the time to write thank-you notes in response to gifts you’ve received, events you’ve enjoyed, or anything else that brought a smile to your face recently.

Give the Universe a quick thank you throughout the day for anything that gives you joy.

Each evening, take an inventory of the blessings of that particular day. If you like, keep a written list and see how long it grows over time.

Don’t be a brat. Express your humanity through appreciation of the abundance all around you.

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at or 765-4988. Her new website is

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