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Can Practicing Gratitude Change Your Life?

“Thank you,” are two little words that mean so much, yet often go unsaid.  Many of us tend to take things for granted and I’m no exception.  I expect my son to say “thank you” when I take him to school or drive 30 minutes to basketball practice because he didn’t want to play for our town’s county team.  But when he remembers to open the door for me or take out the trash without my prodding, I often forget those two little words that mean so much to me.  So if you’re like me, you can probably do a better job of expressing gratitude.

I recently learned that a woman with whom I grew up, died suddenly.  She left behind a heartbroken child and husband.  The news of her passing was a grim reminder that all we have is today. Tomorrow isn’t promised.  There’s an old saying: “Live every day as if it were your last, for one day it surely will be.”

Are you living as if today will be your last?  I doubt it.  We tend to get so caught up in “life” that we forget thank youto actually live.  Instead of being grateful, we’re negative because it seems easier, but it’s not.  Did you know it takes only 2 muscles to smile but 11 to frown?  What does that tell you?

We often take people and things granted.  If we stop, we can start to make a difference in people’s lives.  I found a website that was the first online Gratitude Challenge and brought together 11,000 people from 118 countries.  The kindspring.org website has an online portal that includes a start-up kit designed to help community groups begin their own gratitude challenges.  What an amazing idea!  It made me wonder how I could show more gratitude.  With life so hectic, it’s easy to forget to be thankful.

Gratitude can take many forms, but like anything in which we want to get better, we must practice.  Sometimes, it’s easier to focus on the negative and complain rather than take joy in or even notice the positive.  My dad used to say that we must learn to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.”  As a kid, I’d just roll my eyes.  But now that I’m older and (hopefully) wiser, I get it.

If you begin to practice gratitude, you’ll learn to recognize and appreciate how people, including complete strangers, can help make our lives better.   Gratitude is a small act with a tremendous payoff.  The recipient appreciates knowing they helped make a difference.  But the person who expresses gratitude is the one who gains the most.  Remember the old saying “it’s better to give than to receive?”  That holds true for emotional gifts too.

Life can get to us at times, and we can feel as if nothing goes our way.  We’ve all been to that dark place, and it’s often hard to get out.  If I ever find myself there, what helps bring me back to the light is sitting in a quiet place and making a list of everything for which I am grateful.  My list always starts with my son and my health.  Those are easy and obvious.  But sometimes, I have to dig deeper to find the less recognizable things around me for which I am grateful.

For what are you most grateful?  Write down a list of AT LEAST 10 things, anything.  Once you have your list, is there anyone on it to whom you can express your gratitude?  Who would benefit from a kind word?  If you know someone, find a way to let them know.  You’ll both be glad you did.

If you do this, not only will you make THEIR day, but you’ll be surprised by how good YOU feel.  From this day forward, try to express some form of gratitude to someone each and every day.  We’ve all been through bad times, but even in those times, there are still blessings everywhere.  Sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find them and when you do, write them down as a reminder for the next time you need to feel grateful.  It really can change your life.

formal night 3-25Post by Susan Monaco (COMM ’85), Certified Health Coach, www.healthnwellnessbydesign.com

 

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