The year 2020 has been one that most will never forget. We have had to navigate health issues, financial concerns, isolation, employment obstacles, political unrest, and a host of other matters, that quite frankly, we all will be happy to see end.

When I was contemplating what I wanted this week’s message to be, the only word that kept coming to mind was gratitude. I guess that is because the message of focusing on blessings and gifts was made so clear to me this past weekend.

During a recent routine shopping trip, I purchased food items for a local pantry. There have been so many news reports of people waiting in lines across the country to receive supplies that I decided I wanted to help. I boxed up nonperishable items and went to a local church, which had begun distributing food at the onset of COVID. When I arrived, I could not believe the line of cars wrapped throughout area roads – up and down as far as I could see, people waiting to receive basic items that most of us take for granted. Witnessing that truly humbled me.

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When I got home, all of the things about which I constantly worry didn’t seem so important. I thought: there but for the grace of God go I. At any moment, I could be in that situation, in one of those cars. I was thankful that I wasn’t. Then, I thought about all of the people and things that I seldom take the time to appreciate. I was overcome with emotion.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously.” Emerson’s words offer an introduction into what practicing gratitude can look like.

With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude helps us connect to something larger than ourselves. Research shows that having a connection to something bigger, even in times of challenge and change, makes us happier and healthier.

Even though it usually is during the most difficult times that being grateful seems impossible, that is when it is more important than ever. Gratitude can help us cope with traumatic events, regulate our negative emotions, change our outlook, and lift our spirits. It helps us notice and appreciate all the good things, thereby enabling us to think more positively as a result.

So, how do you actually start a gratitude practice?

Practice mindful moments of gratitude, similar to what I experienced. Take a few minutes every day and focus on the present. Start noticing what’s around you and mentally say everything for which you are grateful.

Then stop replaying every detail of the traumatic experiences in your life. Reframe the situation to focus on a positive aspect. Even though it may not seem possible, there is always something good that can come out of a negative situation.

Finally, share your blessings. Bring more feelings of gratitude into your life by spreading gratefulness. Just like a smile can be contagious, so is a positive, grateful outlook.

What better time to begin this practice than the holiday season?! Thanksgiving through the New Year celebration is the perfect time for reflection; it’s a time of birth and renewal. So, here’s to the start of something new!