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Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

Published November 27. 2010 09:00AM

It is almost dawn as I paddle out to my kitchen. Before I even reach the coffeepot, I am singing a silent prayer of thanksgiving.

It is a simple prayer, just three words words I seem to say all day long: Thank you God.

Thank you, God, for the peace of morning.

Thank you for the sun that climbs over the horizon and begins to flood my house with light.

When I walk outside to retrieve the morning paper, I feel the breeze that blesses us with another glorious morning. I say thank you again for the day that stretches in front of me, a gift that is all mine to use whatever way I want.

I say thank you for the gift of spontaneity, knowing I can make plans and switch plans on a whim. I don't have to punch a clock or limit my day. Four years after retirement, I still don't take that for granted.

Soon, as I think about these gifts, I smell the coffee brewing and know another great pleasure awaits me - breakfast and conversation with my spouse.

It is a treasured morning ritual and I give thanks for it each day. I say thank you for the sacredness of marriage and for the little rituals of the day that add up to a daily bushel of pleasure.

Before the day is over, I will repeatedly sing my silent song of gratitude.

I sing it when I'm biking and I feel like I'm one with the wind.

I sing it when I'm out on the water, thankful that I live here in this nature Lover's paradise.

I sing it when I'm enjoying the company of treasured friends.

I sing it each time I have the chance to see another beautiful sunset.

But it's never enough. Although gratitude is my daily companion, I believe life is too great to fully appreciate.

No matter how many times I say "thank you," it's not enough.

In this, the season of Thanksgiving, many of us think more about the blessings in our life.

It's a season that makes me want to share my silent song of gratitude with others. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Each year I try to celebrate in a meaningful way.

One year I invited an old man to dinner. He was a stranger I met at the deli counter. I was there picking up the big turkey I had ordered. He was there asking for the marked down end piece of baloney. He said it was going to be his Thanksgiving dinner.

Having him at our Thanksgiving table probably did as much for my family and me as it did for him.

Another year I asked everyone invited to my home for Thanksgiving to bring warm socks and toiletries for the homeless ministry in our area.

But no matter what I do to say "thank you" for all my blessings, I feel my prayers and gestures are inadequate.

How can one ever say thank you enough?

I appreciate Thanksgiving because it is such a "pure" holiday. It asks nothing of us except some reflection on our many blessings.

For some families, this reflection may be saying a fast grace before everyone digs into a big feast. Or, maybe it's just a few silent moments of contemplation.

For others who have cultivated a true attitude of gratitude, Thanksgiving is more than one day a year. It's a year-round state of mind.

Psychiatrist Allen Crandall gives a fascinating seminar on happiness and what we can do to lead a happier, healthier life.

The factor that most determines happiness, he says, isn't how much money is in your bank account. It's how much gratitude is in your heart. I certainly agree.

That isn't just opinion. There have been countless studies that show a grateful heart contributes to our emotional well being as well as our physical health.

The Heartmath Institute is doing some interesting research that shows positive emotions such as gratitude help our heart rhythms and nervous system. The research concludes that this rhythm greatly improves mental clarity, creativity, resourcefulness and functioning of the cortex.

But there is a caveat to these results. To get the physical and mental benefits, we must FEEL the emotion of gratitude. It isn't enough to simply make a list of things for which we are grateful…or mumble a few words of thanksgiving once a year.

An attitude of gratitude may sound simplistic. But don't discount the power of the action, scientists and psychologists say. They cite better personal relationships as just one positive outcome.

That's easy to understand. When we learn to see and truly appreciate the people in our life, we are happier for what we have. And when people are appreciated, they are bound to respond to us more positively.

I find it fascinating to read the Law of Gratitude studies that are flooding the Internet and other media. But it doesn't take much "book learning" to cultivate a grateful heart.

It just takes being fully aware of all the blessings we have, both big and small.

And now is the perfect time to start a mental daily inventory.

After all, Thanksgiving isn't just a day or even just a season. It's a season of the heart.

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