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I am not a native speaker. I hope I have a more or less accurate understanding of what the phrase "count your blessings" means ("not everything is bad, you should not really complain", is that so?), but I am struggling to understand the literal meaning. I only know bless from the context of "God bless monarch/country" and when someone sneezes, but I can't really connect that verb to the countable noun.

What is the origin of the phrase "count your blessings"? Is it known when and in what context it was first used?

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I tend to think of "count your blessings" as having much the same purpose as "first world problems." – user867 Nov 7 '13 at 0:43
My favourite Bible verse = Count your blessings one by one. Ooops - there is no such Bible verse!! – Blessed Geek Nov 7 '13 at 1:34
up vote 6 down vote accepted

To bless properly means to bestow favor on something, with a strong implication of divine favor and luck. Blessing is a straightforward verbal noun derived from that, and it indicates those things which one has received from others without deserving it, and again has a strong connotation of those things acquired by good luck or providence. So the phrase count your blessings is an invitation to reconsider all of the things that you have which are going well, all of the ways in which you have been blessed, rather than focusing on the negative aspects of your life.

(The phrase "God bless you" following a sneeze is literally an invocation for God to bless the person who has sneezed, i.e. to protect them from disease and demonic influence. However, the phrase has become completely conventionalized, so a person saying it does not necessarily believe in God or demons.)

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Ah, I see. So the phrase is strictly speaking not an idiom, since it is applied pretty much in its literal sense... Thank you very much! – HomoLu Nov 24 '10 at 18:56
Luck doesn't have anything to do with blessing. Blessing infers that something is received from a willing giver. – Captain Claptrap Nov 25 '10 at 4:14
@Flotsam, originally yes, but in popular parlance, but in the context of JSBangs' parenthesis, that distinction has also been lost. – Benjol Nov 25 '10 at 6:01

My Rabbi told me an answer many years ago. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I will relate it.

He said: “Do you know where the phrase 'count your blessings' comes from? The ancient Jewish tradition is to try to get to 100 blessings a day. Hence you count your blessings to see if you can find 100 of them by the end of the day. It explains why there are so many blessings that a traditional Jewish person will say throughout the day. It’s not just 'grace' after the meal. It’s just everything you do in a day – even blessings for after successfully going potty. Thank goodness my body is working correctly right now…”

The idea is to focus as much as possible on all the things that are going right in your life. When you do that, you will find you are a happier person.

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The phrase owes much of its popularity to this song by the same name.

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I would say it was much more widely popularized by the song written by Irving Berlin. Oatman man have preceded him by a generation, but reached a pre-radio audience. – mickeyf Nov 25 '10 at 14:32
You've confused the popularity/name recognition of the author of the two songs with the influence of the songs themselves. – Captain Claptrap Nov 25 '10 at 20:34

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