Choosing Gratitude

The last few posts encouraged readers to consider parting with possessions, or even their home, in order to lighten physical and mental demands on their life, and help prepare for the certainties of aging. For some, this can be an easy task. For others these decisions can be pretty difficult. In discussions with my friends and family, I’ve noted a recurring thought that life’s challenging choices often leave us feeling powerless. To make it worse, it seems that feelings of guilt or anger often spring forth in response to these feelings of helplessness. For sure, sometime or options are few, if we have one at all. But are there steps we can take to help us cope with the emotional strain of the circumstances? (Hint: The name of this page is “Steps For Today”)

A relatively new branch of psychology is that of “Positive Psychology”. A short, overly simplified explanation of what makes this different from it forerunners, is that it studies that which makes us happy, as opposed to that which makes us sad. At its subjective level, it seeks to understand that which brings us feelings of optimism, happiness and joy, well-being, contentment, or satisfaction. It is an interesting field with many new ideas about how are thoughts and behavior can create and nurture these feelings in our everyday life. Today, however, I want to focus on just one of the many characteristics found among people who report a high level of happiness and contentment: the spirit of gratitude.

One of my favorite lessons in gratitude came from my wife’s grandfather, George. Recovering from injuries received from somehow pulling an full-sized refrigerator over on himself, this sweet 96 year-old was now in a rehab facility working hard to return home. During one of our visits, my wife asked him what he had for dinner. He replied that he had a polish sausage and sauerkraut. With a puzzled look on her face, she stated that she had never seen him eat a sausage of any kind before and asked him how he liked it. With his usual grin, he replied “It was delicious!”. Still a little puzzled, she then asked him if he would order that particular meal again. With no hesitation, came the reply “Not if I had another choice.” And, as always, said with a grin.

No longer with us now, I truly miss the always inspirational discussions with George. His loss of vision and mobility, rarely seemed to affect his spirits. Always happy to have visitors, he was quick to relate tales of his past perseverance, which would somehow weaken our worries of the day. I believe he knew that he had a gift of gratitude and wanted to model and share it with the world. And if there was one thing I noted from sharing time with him, this spirit was contagious; his visitors caught it, his care-givers caught it, and even those who’d stop to talk would catch it. It was one of those gifts that kept on giving.

Another powerful aspect of gratitude is mentioned in a recent post by Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In his article titled “Five Things That Will Make You Much Happier”, Dr. Bradberry writes
“The real neural antidepressant is gratitude. Gratitude boosts levels of serotonin and dopamine—the brain’s happy chemicals and the same chemicals targeted by antidepressant medications. The striking thing about gratitude is that it can work even when things aren’t going well for you. That’s because you don’t actually have to feel spontaneous gratitude in order to produce chemical changes in your brain; you just have to force yourself to think about something in your life that you appreciate.” You can find the full article at

As though being just a little bit happier each day wasn’t enough to wish for…there is another remarkable benefits to developing a spirit of gratitude; substantial increases in productivity. In his book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Shawn Achor sites numerous studies which detail real and profound increases in productivity which can be accomplished when a spirit of positivity and gratitude is fostered in the workplace and at home. Learn more at

My hope is that this blog frequently encourages the reader to take, what may sometimes be, challenging steps outside of their everyday comfort zone. This one however, I find to be fun. It never ceases to amaze me how a few words of gratitude and appreciation will bring a smile to someone’s face (and possibly change their whole day).

Thanks for reading,
And remember to take the next step…

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