At holiday time most of us offer thanks to friends and loved ones, letting them know we’re happy that they are in our lives.  We do this by way of emails and texts; with holiday cards and gifts; or at celebrations of the season.  Many of us express our gratitude by reaching out to those in need through donations, by serving food at soup kitchens, or by spending some time with disadvantaged children.  This is a good thing; the soup fortifies a bleak night ahead, a child can find hope in a hug, and we receive a momentary respite from our own worries.


Visibly giving thanks, however, is only part of what it’s all about.  Look up the word “grateful” in Miriam-Webster. The list begins with “appreciative of benefits received”.  To me this is more about an attitude of appreciation; a true acknowledgement of the many blessings each of us has.  Making this gratitude a cornerstone of our lives is one of the hardest things to do, at holiday time or at any time of the year.  Let’s face it – it’s so much easier to focus on what we don’t possess or haven’t achieved, and at the seeming unfairness of it all.


If it’s so hard to conjure up an inner sense of gratitude, why bother?  Because developing gratitude helps us in the following ways:


  • According to Dan Baker, PhD, author of “What Happy People Know”, there is increasing evidence to support the notion that it is physiologically impossible to experience fear while in a true state of appreciation.   In which of these emotional states would you rather exist?

  • Because it is the “antidote” to fear, gratitude may prolong or even save your life.  Focusing on the negative creates an internal sense of hopelessness, which in turn triggers our primal fears.  These fears cause an ongoing “fight or flight” response within us which puts undue stress on all bodily systems and causes suppression of the immune system.  Long-term we leave ourselves open to a host of unwanted medical problems.  The majority of all doctor’s visits are attributable to ongoing stress.

  • Experiencing appreciation helps us to maintain a positive frame of mind.  People who are hopeful and upbeat tend to take better care of themselves; they eat bett

  • er, exercise more and indulge less in destructive behaviors such abusing alcohol and other substances, or engaging in risky behaviors to get a temporary “high”.

  • Gratitude is a people magnet.  Have you ever noticed that you are naturally drawn to folks who find the positive, even in the worst circumstances? We feel better simply for having been in the presence of these individuals.


Have I convinced you yet?  If so here are some steps you can take to begin shifting your attitude from fear and despair to appreciation:


  • Realize that despite your current circumstances you have the ability to begin focusing more on what’s good in your life than on your misfortunes.

  • Spend some time each day in nature noticing its gifts, e.g. the warmth of the sun, the beauty of a bird in flight or the wonder of a snow fall.

  • Catch your negative self-talk.  When you find yourself focusing on what isn’t working in your life and how frightened you are about it, immediately shift to the potential hidden gifts in your seemingly negative situation (as hard as this may be) and express appreciation for them.


Most importantly, stop what you are doing and start, right now, a list of all of the things, large and small, for which you are grateful.  Keep it handy and add to it.  Making this a daily practice will put a lift in your step and will bless you, as well as those around you, in new and unexpected ways!

Take Time to Appreciate the Good Things in Life

by Maud Purcell

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