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Digging into a deeper well of gratitude

Published July 25. 2015 09:00AM

By PATTIE MIHALIK

newsgirl@comcast.net

I live in a place that is definitely a little piece of Floridian paradise. The first time I drove through the area I could hardly keep my eyes on the road because I was so entranced with the spectacular scenery.

Palm trees swayed along the streets. Water danced with reflected sunlight that made the water look like piles of jewels. Best yet, At sunset the water turned a fiery red as dozens of fascinating shore birds I had never seen before swooped down to the water to find dinner.

I was so taken with the beauty all around me that I kept exclaiming out loud, even though I was the only one in the car.

I thought back then that I hoped I would never take all that beauty for granted. I hoped it would never become so routine that I would stop appreciating it.

I never did. At least several times a week my husband and I both find ourselves verbally appreciating the beauty we see all around us.

This week I interviewed Lazaro, a fellow who demonstrates his gratitude in a remarkable way.

We dubbed him the Prince of the Playground because he never misses a day of working out at the new adult exercise playground in our area. Most of all, he helps every newcomer learn how to use the equipment.

In the process of the interview, Lazaro mentioned he starts his day walking the Peace River Bridge, one of the prettiest sights in our county. He walks 6 miles on the bridge as part of his daily exercise program, just as dozens of other people do every day.

But Lazaro does something unusual on the bridge that turns heads. He actually gets down on his knees to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

Kneeling on concrete, he says he thanks God for the beauty all around him.

"I thank him for all his blessings, gifts and challenges sent my way. And I thank him for the gifts and the challenges yet to come," he says.

Born in Cuba, he came to this county when he was 12 years old. He says he never stops saying thank you for America, this land of opportunity.

How many of us who were born here say a prayer of gratitude for the opportunities we have here?

I have to admit I never do. I'm like most people living here who take it all for granted. Like many people, I'm more prone to grumble about policies and conditions I don't like.

Lazaro has lived here 47 years, yet he never takes this country for granted. Is it only those who came from other countries who have that depth of gratitude?

I remember interviewing a family from Hungary that was visiting Slatington. Relatives drove them around Carbon and Lehigh counties to all the beautiful sights of interest.

But the sight that made them gaze in wonder was the supermarket. They looked in awe at the huge selection of fruits, produce and meats.

"Do you take all this for granted in America?" asked the Hungarian father who called the supermarket "magnificent."

When was the last time you called a supermarket magnificent?

Did you ever look in wonder at the huge selection of fresh produce available to us year-round?

I confess that I am more apt to complain about escalating food costs than I am with being grateful for it all.

Yet the older I get, the more I try to hone in on small blessings I once overlooked.

I've shared with readers how I hate to drive on busy interstates or on roads with five or more lanes in each direction. Each passing year that traffic terrifies me more.

There are certain busy roads I won't drive unless absolutely necessary. Last Friday was one of those necessary days. If I didn't drive to the computer repair shop that day my warranty would have expired.

OK, let's be honest here. As I drove through congested city traffic with too many lanes for my comfort, I had to brace myself with prayer, pleading for help on unfamiliar roads.

I got the help I prayed for, as well as something I didn't expect a little bit of gratitude.

I found myself saying thank you for my new car that accelerated quickly, giving me more confidence in necessary lane changes.

And I was most surprised to find myself saying thank you for the new highway with no narrow lanes with orange construction barrels.

The more I said thank you for little things, the more I relaxed behind the wheel. When I gained a sense of gratitude, my anxiety evaporated. I could even feel a difference in my breathing.

Since then I've tried on other occasions to dig deeper into a sense of gratitude for little things. What I've learned anew is that the more gratitude I feel, the happier I am.

Many studies have documented the positive effects of gratitude on our happiness and on our physical well-being. The mind and the body are tied together, and gratitude is the perfect bow.

While I've always been an extremely grateful person, my new gift is better appreciating simple things such as smooth roads and a bird nesting nearby.

It's impossible not to feel great when you learn to be grateful for the small gifts we encounter every day.

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