With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many people are busily preparing grocery lists, finalizing travel preparations and shining silverware, but in just a matter of days, they’ll pause around the table to reflect on their bounty.

For a brief time, they’ll think about the things they treasure most and how lucky they are to have them. Then too soon, those thoughts will be crowded out by everything from cleaning up and preparing for the winter holidays to winterizing the car and dealing with the problem co-worker.

But extending that attitude of gratitude could also extend your happiness and your life. A number of studies have found that a thankful attitude brings significant health benefits, including better health and better coping strategies.

People who describe themselves as grateful are generally more optimistic. They take better care of themselves and they tend to be less materialistic and less stressed. Gratitude increases our sense of well-being, regardless of socioeconomic factors, education, age or gender.

The problem is that in today’s busy world, many people fly from one task to another without taking the opportunity for such important reflection. But just by becoming aware of the powerful benefits of giving thanks, you can find a bit more happiness, a few more health benefits, in the seemingly mundane.

Gratitude begins with observation. The fiery color in the trees, the perfect symmetry of snowflakes or the softness of a child’s hand are things many of us experience in a day, but few of us appreciate. Take a few moments each day to experience your senses. See, smell, taste, hear and feel the good things around you.

Many people find that daily exercises of one kind or another are helpful. Some have a practice of going through the alphabet, naming one thing for which they’re grateful with each letter. Others use comparison. They think of people who are homeless today because of recent natural disasters or people who are suffering in other ways and realize how good their lives are.

Gratitude journals are also gaining attention. People use the journals daily to record good things that happened that day, whether it be a safe drive home or time spent with a good friend. Negative experiences are only allowed if they’re framed by the good that resulted from them. And the focus is on what you do have as opposed to what you don’t.

Some find that simple, quiet reflection just before bedtime can also be a soothing way to end the day and increase the chance for a restful night.

Whatever method you use, taking a few moments each day for thanksgiving can change your life for the better. Our thoughts can change our emotions, and our emotions can change our actions. Regardless of your circumstances, you’ll likely find that after awhile, you’ve become a kinder co-worker, a more forgiving friend and happier person all around. And that will increase others’ gratitude for you.

As published in the November 2005 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.