I’ve been wondering about the role of blessing in my life, and how that impacts others. Being one? Having one? Giving one? Is it maybe one of my purposes, to be a blessing to someone else? I think of a blessing as some kind of metaphysical, abstract gift to give or receive. Somehow it feels like something bigger or deeper than simply wishing someone well. It feels more like offering a holy benefit or favor. Something the one might bestow upon another in a sort of ritual or intentional event. Can we also consider that just walking around being pleasant, gaining our own personal happiness, or helping someone else might also be a blessing? If so, am I–the giver of the blessing–blessed as much as the person who receives it?
These questions have a long history in western culture, especially from a religious perspective. For example, the Old Testament story of God’s covenant with Abraham, where the covenant is sometimes referred to as a blessing. It is said that Abraham was “blessed to be a blessing”–by gaining God’s favor, Abraham and his people would bless others. Sort of like passing it on to future generations. Many in the Judeo-Christian tradition have considered that to be a significant revelation of the pattern of gaining favor with God, as a result of their making a commitment to be faithful.
Others have considered the blessing as something passed along from one generation to another, a sort of wisdom or world-view that can enrich those who follow after us. Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. has written a book, My Grandfather’s Blessing, in which she recounts life lessons given her by her grandfather. One is the story of the Old Testament struggle between Jacob and the angel. As told by Rachel’s grandfather, the struggle seemed like one between Jacob and an enemy, which left Jacob with a life-long leg injury. Rather than interpret it as a tragedy, the grandfather says that “The most important part of the story is that everything has its blessing”. The effect of that blessing lasted throughout Rachel’s life, as a reminder that, while we’d love to be without suffering in life, it doesn’t work that way; and we would be missing out on the blessing of enrichment if we neglected to engage with our suffering.
Author Shawn Achor points to the social nature of happiness in his book, The Happiness Advantage. As a Harvard professor of psychology, and researcher in human potential, he outlines the rationale and strategies for increasing our sense of well-being. One of the most important of the components of happiness is found in the nature of our social relationships. As we relate to significant family and friends, we are given and we receive support from which we bounce back more easily from stress and bumps in the road. We have our own cheering squad to support us and encourage us, to “be there” when we stumble. He also concludes that as we take up happiness for ourselves, we almost automatically spread it around. A blessing that keeps on rippling out to others. As we delve into understanding our own happiness, we uncover dimensions of satisfaction and energy that reaches others without our knowing. And we also are moved to reach out to help others discover their happiness. The deeper and more aware we are of our own well-being, the more we have to offer others, and the more we intend to be a blessing to others.
Maybe the Old Testament story is about the Abrahams in us all? Awareness of the sublime nature of being endowed with well-being, of being connected to a wider, bigger and more profound truth, and dispersing our good-cheer may be our highest purpose, to become a blessing.