Count Your Blessings instead of Sheep

“Count your blessings instead of sheep, I tell my clients,” my sister, the psychologist, told me. “New research shows we can actually reprogram the brain by focusing on the positive.”

The cutting edge research is known as “neuroplasticity.” Researchers found the brain actually sets up new ways for impulses to travel.

When we learn a new activity or a new way of thinking or speaking, neurons housed in that area of the brain sends impulses to the nerve cell’s fibers or dendrites that secrete chemicals to create a new route connecting nerve cells in a different way. This research is known as the development of “neuro-pathways.”

Taking up a new activity – golfing or learning a new language – and practicing it again and again, creates a well-defined pathway for the brain to follow.  The same is true for developing a more positive focus on life; hence my sister’s advice to her depressed clients to count blessings not sheep.

My conversations with constituents over the past few weeks led me to think ways to heal the state from the onslaught of negative ads, mailings and campaign rhetoric. Republicans and Democrats alike feel anxiety about the election results.

Let us take Thanksgiving to count our blessings.

Everywhere I go people tell me they are relieved Election Day has passed.

Democrats are thankful for winning the presidential race and adding more U.S. Senators including Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin. Republicans are thrilled they again have complete control in the Wisconsin statehouse. They are picking out more spacious offices and dividing up committee chairmanships.

So to count our blessings: Election Day is over. Both sides can declare victory.

Now begins the hard work of governing. My sister’s advice to her clients may be good advice to my colleagues. If we all try new cooperative behaviors and, with time and practice, develop a well-worn pathway to repeating that behavior, perhaps we can start with the work of governing.

We can be thankful all of the candidates talked of compromise and bi-partisanship and hopeful they will remember the will of the electorate as elected officials.

We can be thankful the attention of the state has turned from politics to deer hunting.

In my world the deer grew fat and tall eating my alfalfa. State-wide populations seem to rebounding. George Meyer, Executive Director of Wisconsin Wildlife Federation told a local NBC news affiliate: “My prediction is the deer harvest will be up.” Meyer said gun hunters should be ready for a “good hunt”.

DNR officials touted a mild winter, good fawn survival and a reduction in antlerless deer permits as reasons to expect good results in the field. DNR expects more than 600,000 hunters in the woods – about ten percent of Wisconsin’s population.

We can be thankful for the 80,000 deer donated by Wisconsin hunters over the last 12 years. These deer amounted to more than 3.6 million pounds of ground venison for Wisconsin food pantries statewide. The numbers come from the Wisconsin Venison Donation Program and its affiliates Hunt for the Hungry and Target Hunger. More than 120 meat processors are ready to accept donations and distribute the venison. You can get more information about this program at the DNR website: dnr.wi.gov (keyword, “Deer Donation”).

Hunters who donate their deer remind us of the importance of looking out for those less fortunate as we enjoy the bounty of our state. Victims of Hurricane Sandy are still cleaning up and putting their lives back together.

Hurricane Sandy reminds us to be thankful for the simple things in life; turning on the lights, a warm house, a comfortable bed, clean clothes, food in the kitchen and nearby family and friends.

As we bow our heads to give thanks, let us remember the victims of Hurricane Sandy and give them assistance through a donation to the Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/donate

Remembering our blessings need not end after Thanksgiving. As psychologists tell us, taking time on a regular basis to remember and see the good around us actually helps us improve our own mental health. Something we can all do; including those of us who work in the statehouse.