magazine interview

Count your blessings one by one
They look like jewelry, but the gratitude strands Lisette Doesburg has invented are more than just beautiful. When you think of something that you are grateful for with each bead that passes your hands, dark moments will immediately fade away.

The idea is as simple as it is brilliant: a strand of beads to count your blessings. In the same way a rosary is used in (Catholic) prayer and an Indian mala in chanting  mantra’s, a gratitude strand helps you to remember each day what makes you happy.

Lisette Doesburg ‘invented’ the gratitude strands. Six years ago, her father’s terminal illness was the inspiration for this idea. “Although he knew he wouldn’t get better, my father glowed when he felt grateful” she says. “He didn’t look ill at all at such moments. That made a great impression on me. I discovered how essential gratitude is. By being grateful you make a connection with something or someone. The paradox is that that connection makes you aware of your own strength. You experience freedom; you discover what is going well in your life; you live in the present.” “Gratitude can be felt physically” says Lisette. “By focusing your attention inward when you are holding a strand of gratitude beads you notice something happening in your body. Some experience it in their heads, others in their stomach, yet another in their feet. It doesn’t matter at all where you experience that feeling, but you can also see it from the outside when someone is feeling grateful.”

A strand of gratitude beadsSixteen beads for balance
The strands are made using natural materials such as wood and saponite. Many beads and pedals originate from Bali, Indonesia. The number of beads is always 16, a number which stems from holy geometry. Long ago it was discovered that certain ratios influence healing and sixteen beads help you to keep your balance. There are also strands made especially for children. They consist of seven beads and a nice pendant. To distinguish the gratitude strands from other jewelry they have a label. It is the symbol of the American initiative The Gratitude Experiment, which has been established to experience what happens when many people feel gratitude at the same time.

Lisette did not develop the strands for her own sake. The proceeds of the sales of gratitude beads go to awareness programs for children and teens to heighten their self-awareness and understanding of the world around them. The gratitude strands are manufactured by a team of volunteers. They work with awareness and the love thereby transposed to the strand also contributes to its energy. Lisette: “I am still surprised that something so relatively ‘simple’ can work so strongly. We wouldn’t be doing this for five years already without all the positive feedback we received.”

Just count
Although a strand of gratitude beads looks like a piece of jewelry it is not meant to be worn. A bracelet can be forgotten during wearing, but a strand is meant to help you remember. It is awkward on purpose, so you feel that you carry it with you in your pocket or purse, or that you notice it lying in a spot where you pass by often. When holding it, the beads help you to focus on everything that is Okay in your life at that moment. Just count every blessing or remember someone who gives you a nice feeling. Lisette has a strand in almost every pocket, and sometimes one ends up in the washing machine as a consequence. Just by feeling the presence of the strand you shift your attention from all things your head is concerned with towards a feeling of gratitude. Lisette has learned to make that switch very fast in the last couple of years.

One of the people who joined Lisette in her project is Alexandra Tsilavis. She has been busy in producing the strands on a larger scale. “Gratitude isn’t something difficult or laborious” she says. “We want to enlighten the subject. That can be done with very small actions. I visited someone regularly over the years; she is mentally challenged and has endured much pain. At a certain point she felt that there was nothing nice or special about a day at all. I sat at her side with a gratitude strand in my hands. She asked me what that was and I explained that I always carry it around and it helps me in moments when I feel unhappy. I showed her how each bead stands for something I do like, what makes me happy. So I started: I like the sun, lucky for me it is shining today. When she heard my story she wanted to try for herself. Even on a day when she was feeling hopeless and lost she still could think of five things she was grateful for.” Alexandra also works with children who have experienced a loss. In those situations a gratitude strand can work as well. It is not easy to explain to children what gratitude is all about, but they can think of something nice or happy with each bead. And then they discover that their memories are not only sources of tears, but also of joy.

Original Dutch Text: Wies Enthoven, translation Adrienne Baars.