An attitude of gratitude: 365 days a year

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 26, 2004

Sometimes in the middle of stories of the Pilgrims and Native Americans, the endless round of football games and tummies stuffed with turkey, dressing and the trimming, we somehow overlook what Thanksgiving is supposed to be all about – giving thanks.

Actually, being grateful for what we have – and, yes, even what we don’t have – can benefit us all every day of the year.

Taught to be dissatisfied

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We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded with messages about how we should desire bigger, better things. We are told we will never be happy unless we live in the right sort of home, drive the right status symbol vehicles, wear the right designer labels – you know the drill.

People get so busy pursuing the elusive butterfly of happiness they miss out on the possibility of being happy in the here and now.

Count your blessings

From January through December, we each have a multitude of blessings to count, and counting them will make us happier, healthier people – and ones who are much nicer to live, work and play along side.

It can be easy to overlook the good things in our lives. There are days we end up easily relating to that quote attributed to Mother Teresa: &uot;I know the Lord isn’t going to put on me more than I can handle. Some days, I wish the Lord didn’t trust me so much.&uot;

Even when there is pain and loss, trouble and sorrow, there is something good for which we can and should give thanks. Here are some tips that can help you make thankfulness an everyday habit.

n Begin by keeping a gratitude journal. Don’t write down negative things; focus on the positive things that happen to you.

n Think of all the good things that happened because something bad happened first. An example from the writer’s life: &uot;I am grateful for my father’s tractor accident because if he hadn’t been injured, the doctor would not have ordered more tests and then discovered a life-threatening aneurysm.&uot;

n Focus on what you have, not what you lack. &uot;I am fortunate to be able to see the beauty around me.&uot; &uot;I am thankful to live in a small town where I can safely walk the streets.&uot;

n Think about the people you have known that have made you thankful for their existence. It may be family, friends, teachers, even people you have only read about or seen on television. Imagine other people who are equally as wonderful. Think of them as friends you simply haven’t met yet.

n Think about the people who have made life hard for you. Now, think about the things you have accomplished in spite of those hardships. Did you reach for a goal and achieve it because they said you’d never make it? Did you get better at something because they laughed and made fun of you because you did it badly? Did their cruel and thoughtless actions make you vow to treat others with compassion and kindness? You see, even the negative forces in your life can have positive results, worthy of your gratitude.

n Pets can be a great source of joy in one’s life: the dog who greets you with a wagging tail and bright eyes when you come home, the cat who loves being your &uot;laptop&uot;. Think of the birds and their sweet music and the antics of the back yard squirrels, possums and other creatures. We can be grateful for animals in our lives.

n What about the places that make you smile – an exciting city, a favorite hangout, a wooded path where you enjoy taking nature walks, the hill beside your house where you once rode on your Radio Flyer wagon. Give thanks for all those places.

n Pass it on. True gratitude requires us to take action. Lend a hand. Provide a shoulder to cry on. Give a listening ear. Give back as often as you can. Even something as simple as a smile and a &uot;hello&uot; can make the difference in someone’s day.

n Make your own opportunities for gratitude. Do you know some &uot;grumpy Scroogeyman&uot; who never seems to be happy?

Have a smile and a kind word ready every time you see them. It may take time, but eventually they will be the one who smiles first. Your relationship will be sweeter – and you’ll have something new to be thankful for!

n Let others know they have done something you are thankful for. &uot;That e-mail you sent me was terrific, it put a smile on my face.&uot; &uot;You are so helpful – you make shopping here a real pleasure.&uot; Just as a rotten attitude can be contagious, an attitude of gratitude can send out ripples of thankfulness that spread, benefiting all it touches.

n &uot;Life is hard, but God is good.&uot;

The hard times make us appreciate the good times all the more. Obstacles and challenges in life not only toughen us, they force us to move out of our comfort zones. No challenges – no progress. No obstacles – no achievement. Be thankful for the opportunities they provide.

n Giving thanks is a powerful tool that can change our lives for the better. Start by embracing gratitude’s special day Thursday, then make it a habit every day of the year. Happy Thanksgiving!