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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21 is World Gratitude Day

Today, Sept. 21, is World Gratitude Day. Started in 1977 by the United Nations Meditation Group, this day reminds us to take time to think about and celebrate the many people and things that bring joy into our lives. What will you celebrate today? Special friends, family members, the great outdoors, your good health? There are so many things to value, so many people to appreciate.

World Gratitude Day is a great day to stop and think about the people and things for which we are grateful. For starters, I appreciate my beautiful home, my wonderful daughter, my good health, the fact that I have health insurance and a reliable pension. I am healthy and happy.

I do appreciate so many people and things in my life, but I don't do a very good job of expressing my gratitude to them or for them. Last year I made a 100-item gratitude list, and there are times when I pause to consider how grateful I am for something in particular. Since moving to New Mexico, I have been acutely aware of how much I appreciate living where I do, and being able to enjoy the natural beauty all around me. I also really appreciate having my daughter back home, happy and doing well. Being more aware of my gratitude is something I'm working on doing more frequently, as well as letting people know that I appreciate them.

World Gratitude Day is a day to celebrate our very existence on a planet that, as far as we know, is the only one in the universe capable of supporting life as we know it. Our planet provides us with everything we need to survive: air, water, food and abundant natural resources, and with the things we need to thrive, such as natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Whether you like the ocean, the desert or the mountains, our beautiful planet has something for everyone.

One of the things I have been working on over the past year is to incorporate more gratitude into my life. The gratitude list was a good start, but to really have an impact, gratitude needs to be practiced on a regular basis. Some have found that keeping a gratitude journal or a daily gratitude list is helpful in keeping them mindful of the many things in their lives for which they are grateful. I haven't had the discipline to do that, but it's something to work on.

Even in the midst of challenging times in life, there is room for gratitude. Sometimes a terrible situation turns out to have an unpredicted benefit. Maybe we learn something about ourselves as a result of going through a particularly difficult challenge. Maybe a new opportunity presents itself. Maybe we make a new friend or find a new love interest. Stay open and look for opportunities to be grateful.

"Praise the bridge that carried you over," wrote George Colman The Younger. What a great way of expressing gratitude even for difficult times.

Start each day by thinking about something for which you are grateful. Determine in your mind that today will be a good day. Think about something positive: Today I have a job, I am healthy, I am having lunch with a friend, whatever you can think of. One small example: I hate getting up early, but I have to get my daughter up and ready to catch the school bus at 6:30 a.m. This gives me the opportunity to walk my daughter to the bus stop, and to walk my dogs on a cool, calm morning and watch yet another beautiful sunrise over the mountains. For those small things, I am grateful.

Even if you're worried about something, try to see the positive in it. I was very worried about what my dog's ultrasound would reveal. But I set the worry aside and focused on the positive: A veterinarian trained in ultrasonography would do the ultrasound and I would know for sure what is going on in my dog's internal organs. Good or bad, the information would provide answers. I am grateful for the technology and for the skilled veterinarian to provide these answers. And I am grateful to have answers.

Give people complements -- sincere complements -- and thank them when you appreciate something they have done for you. I've tried to make a point of telling my daughter when a particular outfit looks nice, or to thank her when she does a good job of helping around the house, when she gets a good grade on a test, or when she does a chore without being asked.

Practice random acts of kindness. My daughter, a student driver, frequently lets other drivers go ahead of her. She holds the door for people. See somebody struggling to reach an item high on a grocery store shelf? Grab the item for them. Pay the toll for the car behind you. Surprise someone by doing something thoughtful for no reason at all. Buy a surprise gift, send a card, deliver a home-cooked meal to someone who is feeling under the weather. Or just tell them how much you appreciate their friendship or guidance. I just joined a new Random Acts of Kindness Meetup group in Albuquerque. The group has just four members so far, but I'm looking forward to learning what kinds of things we come up with.

Volunteer. There are countless volunteer opportunities available, both formal and informal, from delivering meals to the homebound to mentoring at-risk kids, helping clean a river, teaching an adult to read, walking dogs at an animal shelter, offering to take an elderly neighbor grocery shopping or mowing someone's lawn just because it needs it. Volunteering makes both the donor and the recipient feel good. Several years ago, I volunteered with an organization that helps the elderly remain in their homes. One day I scrubbed out the bathtub of a very old woman, swept the area around her mobile home and tidied the place up. Another time, I organized the kitchen of a widower who had had a stroke, putting the most commonly used cooking utensils, pans and dishware where he could easily reach them. I took one woman grocery shopping. This was such a small thing for me, but she was unable to drive and it made a huge difference to her. When I was finished, I felt good about helping these senior citizens maintain their independence.

We all have dark days and challenging times in our lives; that's part of being alive. But if we make gratitude a part of our daily routine, it will soon become a foundation of our very existence. It feels good to be appreciated, and it also feels good to be grateful. Everybody wins.