McHenry County Opinion

Oliver: Gratitude, patience can be first steps toward building resilience

So much in life is a matter of perspective.

Take identical sets of circumstances and give them to different people. One person may be able to shake off a less-than-ideal situation, while another may allow that same situation to defeat them.

I’ve always found it interesting that some of the happiest people have what a lot of us would consider terrible circumstances: poverty, chronic illness, weighty responsibilities. Conversely, some of the angriest, most unhappy people seem to have it all: wealth, health and even fame.

The difference oftentimes between those happy and unhappy people: resilience and gratitude.

We aren’t born with either. As infants, we naturally dwell on the negative. If we’re hungry, we scream until someone feeds us. If we’re wet, we scream until someone fixes that problem.

With time, we learn that we have a measure of control over how we’ll react to what comes our way. We learn that we can fix the problem ourselves. We learn that helping someone else with their problems can give us a measure of satisfaction.

For some of us, these lessons are ones we continually work on. Sometimes we allow other people’s opinions to have too much weight in how we view ourselves. Sometimes we allow the little voice in our own head, the one that demands perfection, too much say over matters.

Still, it’s never too late to develop a greater sense of gratitude for what we do have.

No doubt when we look around, we all can find a few things for which to be thankful. That’s an exercise we hear about a lot this time of year, but it’s something worthwhile to practice 365 days a year.

One low-effort way to do that is to come up with three things for which we are thankful each day. If we don’t list the same three things daily, then after a while we’ll see that a lot of things are going right in our lives.

When we have all those good things to think about, it helps to balance out the adversity that inevitably arises. A lot of times we have absolutely no control over difficult situations. However, we always have control over how we view them.

Putting difficult circumstances into perspective can keep mole hills small and avoids turning them into mountains. It keeps little things manageable and big things from becoming insurmountable.

Resilience is one of those qualities we always want to build in our children, but it’s handy to have that in ourselves. After all, a lot of how we teach our children is by example.

Patience, too, can help us keep things positive and in perspective. Sometimes, even when we’re doing everything we can to overcome a hurdle, it remains. It takes time to accept the things we cannot change. It’s OK not to be OK all the time. Even the happiest people have bad days. We all do.

Still, when we spend a lot of time being angry and sad, we wear ourselves out. Anger and sadness are exhausting. They also don’t solve problems.

I’ve been dealing with some pretty serious challenges these past few years, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s not always easy to stay positive. Sometimes life can feel overwhelming.

Knowing that there’s nothing I can do to make my husband’s Alzheimer’s disease go away can easily send me down a dark road. However, I choose to focus on what I still have rather than what I’ve already lost. He’s still with me, and I’m determined to make his days as happy as I can. For both of us.

I’m grateful for the many “helpers” who surround us, from fantastic neighbors and wonderful friends to supportive readers who reach out. I’m grateful that by sharing our story, Tony and I can help others understand what life with dementia is like. Honestly, I’m grateful for more things than I can list.

We’ve all been challenged these past few years in ways we probably didn’t see coming. However, we’re all in this together. And we’re still here, which is another thing for which to be thankful.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.