Good for the Soul…A fresh perspective on gratitude

by Mary Reitano

Photo credit: Mary Reitano

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

As Thanksgiving approaches, we hear many comments about being grateful for our blessings. We have heard the benefits of focusing on the good things we have. It has even been verified by positive psychology researchers that gratitude is good for us. However, I wonder if we occasionally become complacent in our appreciation. Are we at risk of a “been there, done that” attitude when counting blessings? How do we keep a fresh perspective about things to be thankful for? Here are some suggestions: 

Look at the world through the eyes of a child. Everything is new and fascinating–a wonderful source of joy and play. It doesn’t matter if it is a butterfly or a cardboard box! Or read a book or watch a video about the amazing aspects of the human body. Two relevant books I loved are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image by Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancey. But there are many other options. Or reflect after recovering from an illness or injury. I recall being incredibly appreciative of the structure and function of my shoulder after I injured it and then had it surgically repaired. Previously, I had taken it for granted. Open your eyes to nature. I have a lovely view of Lake Lure, the foothills, the woods, and the ever-changing clouds and sky from my living room window. I often say to my husband that we are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place.

Do volunteer work. When we serve at a food bank or literacy center, it is easier to be grateful about having a full pantry or for parents who taught you to read. Another way to increase gratitude is, surprisingly, watch the news. As distressing as it sometimes is, when I see reports about a war-torn country, I am grateful for peace in my own.

 Travel can also jumpstart thankfulness. Whether you travel for recreation or service, it often exposes you to situations that remind you how fortunate you are. When I travelled to Lima, Peru and saw the shanty towns nearby, I met a family who lived in a house with dirt floors and no roof. The mother worked all day for one peso taking the seeds from dried chiles. It made me more grateful for my home, as well as inspiring financial support for the folks helping this community.

Lastly, when my level of gratitude has diminished, I find inspiration from reading books about gratitude. Other perspectives jumpstart my thankfulness. Books recommended by Courtney E. Ackerman on include Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill; A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik; and The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan (a New York Times bestseller). Two of my favorites have Christian perspectives. In Wonderstruck, the author Margaret Feinberg writes “Live each day like a child digging through a treasure chest, rifling for the next discovery.” Jan Dargatz’s creative list in her book, 10,000 Things to Praise God for includes “shooting under par, small pleasures, skylights, spouses who don’t hold grudges, and trails worth hiking.” 

In closing today, let’s embrace the attitude of poet Maya Angelou, “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen it before.” 

Mary Reitano is Licensed Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor who emphasizes positive psychology and wellness of mine, body, spirit, emotions and relationships.


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