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Bless You

Most people sneeze about four times a day.

Long ago, the Romans and Greeks considered sneezing a sign of wellness and expressed their good wishes to the person who sneezed with the joyful proclamation, “Live long!” 

Yet somewhere along the way, sneezing became associated with sickness. Certainly, sneezing is sometimes a symptom of a virus like the common cold – though we know it can also be caused by a lot of other things, including seasonal allergies, or bright lights, or even eating too much.  

When the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe, it is believed Pope Gregory I suggested people respond to someone who sneezed with a tiny prayer of “bless you,” in hopes of protecting the person from death. 

Still today, it’s a common refrain to say “bless you” when someone sneezes. We hear the familiar “ah-choo!” and turn toward it with a small wish. “Stay healthy,” we offer to complete strangers. “I don’t want harm to come your way.” 

That’s something I’ve noticed more during this strange time. Small kindnesses like the tiny prayer “bless you.” To see a stranger’s smile and have a smile returned. We even have a new refrain: “stay safe.” There are reminders all around of how we are inextricably linked and want other people to be okay.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.