“Thank you.” Have you said that recently? To whom? How did you feel when you did so? Two words: “thank you.” At times we toss them out casually, out of habit or obligation. Other times, we speak from a well of gratitude; appreciative that someone expressed care for us. When there’s meaning behind the phrase, do you notice how it makes our hearts smile? We feel uplifted in that moment as we recognize someone reached out to consider us, and we want to respond. Their kindness generates a spirit of thankfulness as we enjoy a taste of the goodness that can be found when people extend a helping hand. No matter what challenges we may be facing, an attitude of gratitude lifts our spirits, draws us closer together and fuels a spirit of hope that encourages us to look around for other blessings. All too often, our minds dwell on problems not resolved, opportunities missed, relationships lost, promises not kept, faded dreams, fears of an uncertain future, regrets and longings. While life does bring its share of challenges and disappointments, it also brings us great joys: problems solved, opportunities seized, relationships built, promises kept, dreams fulfilled, hope that reassures our fear. An attitude of gratitude provides a lifeline to carry us through the darkest moments and uncertainties of life as it reaches into the depths of our souls with awareness of God’s faithful provision for us. That same spirit of thankfulness causes our hearts to overflow with joy that spills over onto those around us as we celebrate the goodness of life that is ours. Such a powerful life benefit should be experienced far more frequently than merely on Thanksgiving Day. It costs nothing but a little time and attention; yet it brings richness and fullness to our lives and promotes our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Researchers have studied the impact of a spirit of gratitude on our physical and mental health. Reports suggest that feelings of thankfulness not only encourage enjoyment of life, they also have a significant positive value in helping people cope with life’s challenges. A few years ago, researchers Robert A. Emmons from the University of California, and Davis and Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami, conducted a study on the dimensions of gratitude. Their report included the following observations: In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based). Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another. Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. The study noted that grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. The individuals surveyed who reflected routinely on their blessings experienced a healthier sense of well-being. While they knew quite well the challenges, disappointments and uncertainties of life, they took time each day to recall the goodness of life that was theirs. Recently, I watched the passengers from the US Airways Flight that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River gather to express gratitude to the crew and to fellow passengers who helped them through that harrowing experience. After the rescue, each went on with their lives; however, they took time out to express their thankfulness to each other and to God for helping them through that challenging time. As I watched the exchange between them, I was reminded again of the power of gratitude. No matter what challenges you are facing right now, take time to give yourself the gift of a thankful heart. Then express that spirit of gratitude as you touch the lives of those around you. Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you. Nancy Williams, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor with a counseling, coaching and consulting practice in Kingwood. Send questions or comments to her at www.nancywilliams.net. This article is not to be taken as professional counseling or advice.

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