By Jan H. Gunter
For the Opelika

As we enter the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah, the word “gratitude” is one of those quintessential edicts which comes to mind when talking about what makes these seasons so meaningful. But, as we approach this special time of year, with all of the notable “hustle and bustle” in the days leading up to this season – the special parties and dinners, shopping for the perfect gifts to give and time spent with family (sometimes after we’ve had to travel a long distance) – how many of us truly stop for a moment to sincerely recognize, and give thanks for, all we have to be grateful for?
We speak of gratitude. Many can even define it as the quality of being thankful or appreciative. The Latin word “gratia” means grace, graciousness or gratefulness (depending on the context). We often call someone “gracious” when they have the type of personality that is pleasing to most who know them, or when they have done something out of the “goodness of their heart.”
But the question becomes this: is there more to gratitude than just an intangible sense of being thankful when something nice happens to us, or someone shows us some kindness? And, can all of us develop the ability to make it a part of our lives?
The answer is a resounding yes to both questions! True gratitude (thankfulness) begins when we not only recognize actions of kindness and love in our lives from others, but also when we can truly appreciate those intangible things we also possess – things like our family and friends, our life and freedom and the ability to determine our own futures.
If we strive to develop an attitude of gratitude, we can develop a positive quality of life atmosphere for ourselves that lasts throughout the year – and not just during the holiday season – no matter what life throws at us! An attitude of gratitude is something we should seek to possess and practice all year long, not only because it helps us in our relationships with others, but because, as scientific research has shown, it’s also good for our physical and psychological health status as well.
According to the psychological research done through the years by experts across the country, those who learn how to focus on things they can be thankful for, rather than on the “gripes” they have in their everyday living, develop more of the ability to process and cope with the feelings of loss, depression and moments of overwhelming sadness whenever life throws us those proverbial “curve balls” (which it does to all of us at some time or another).
Believe it or not, there have been numerous studies done on this very notion. The typical research setup of institutions usually involves long term analyses of two or sometimes three study groups. Group one is instructed to write down their feelings of things that happen to them every day, including “what went wrong.” Group two is instructed to do the same thing, only add a sentence or two of what, or who, they could still be grateful for each day (i.e. something or someone who had made a positive difference). Group three does nothing. At the end of the given time for the research each group receives psychological evaluations.
The conclusion reached time and time again is the following: practicing and focusing on gratitude can make us happier, healthier and stronger in our relationships with others, and better able to cope when bad things happen.
So how do we cultivate this attitude of gratitude in our lives? And how do we teach our families to develop this important attitude as well? Below are some of the ways it has been suggested to start doing this.
Start making it a habit of writing thank you notes when someone has given you something or has touched your life in some positive way. No time to write? Then call the person to let them know your gratitude.
Let the special people in your life know how thankful you are that they are in your life. Not only will you put a smile on their face, and in their hearts, it will strengthen your friendship in many positive ways.
If you are someone who prays, try including things you are grateful for in your quiet time, alongside of your prayer requests. It will help you recognize what you have already been blessed with in so many areas of your life.
Start a journal of gratitude and write in it every day. It doesn’t have to be long drawn out pages of writing (unless you love writing!); a few sentences will do. Even on “bad days,” we all have things to be grateful for – even if it’s as simple as writing “I’m glad I made it through this day!” This helps you see that even when things are not what we’d like them to be, there are still plenty of positive things in our lives we can focus on and be grateful for.
Recognize your blessings. On particularly bad days, begin writing down what you do have – and all that you have been blessed with – and keep it somewhere close so you can read it when you need encouragement or when you’re feeling “blue” over what you wish you had, but don’t.
Establish a gratitude ritual in your family. You can make a game of “what I am thankful for today” when your family gathers around the dinner table, with everyone sharing something they are pleased about in the day. Parents can help their younger children develop this habit when tucking them in bed at night. This not only teaches them to develop a sense of gratitude in their lives, but it helps you hear about when thingsare “not going so well,” giving you the opportunity to point out to them the positive things they can be grateful for at the end of each day. Some families have created a “gratitude jar.” Whenever something nice happens to a member of the family, they write it down and slip the notion into the jar. The jar is maintained until a special family occasion, where it is taken out and all of the notes are read. The reading is then followed up by a celebration of sorts when the family celebrates with gratitude all the positive things going on in their lives.
Do something nice for someone else – or have a sweet attitude about something you need to do, or have been asked to do. And if someone has done something nice for you, practice “passing it forward” by doing something nice or kind for someone else whose path you cross, who might need help that you can offer.
According to many psychological experts, practicing gratitude and making it a habit in our lives helps us to appreciate what we have instead of always trying to “gain more of what others have” to make us feel better about our lives, or think we can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need or desire is met.
The attitude of gratitude helps us realize that it’s not so much the “things” in life that will make our lives fulfilling and joyful; but rather, the family and friends we can draw close to all through our lives. Having an attitude of gratitude, and being able to show others our thankfulness for having them in our lives creates a special bond along life’s journey that money or things just can’t buy.