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I like to think I am an independent person, but the truth is I am surrounded by people and provisions that are beyond my ability to provide for myself. The avocados I bought at the store today were grown by someone else and likely were picked by yet another person. Someone else built the country road that I walk my dogs on. Who planted all the colorful fall trees on that country road? I do not know, but boy am I thankful I have eyesight to see their bright beauty. Appreciation and gratitude validate the needed connections we have in our life. All-day long, we receive things from outside of ourselves. Consider the gifts all around us: as we express thanks and gratitude, we step into a space of humility as mere recipients. This humble posture can open up the opportunity to boast of another’s goodness. Gratitude—it’s good to feel from others, and it’s good to give.

From a health perspective, we know gratitude is tied to greater happiness and has the ability to reverse depression, as our focus finds good around us. Gratitude creates healthier relationships, more positive emotions, an increased ability to manage difficulty and better overall health.

I’d like to focus on healthier relationships for a bit, because I think that is something we could all agree we like to have, and it might be easier than we think to get one step healthier. World-renowned researchers and clinical psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman have created what they call The Sound Relationship House. Their visual shows a house held together by the walls of Trust and Commitment. The first of seven foundational layers is Love Maps, where individuals within a couple get to know their partner’s world. The next layer to this sound relationship house is sharing fondness and appreciation to one’s partner. Expressed appreciation, fondness and gratitude create feelings of goodwill between people. This goodwill can go a long way to minimize the negativity of inevitable conflict or misunderstandings that pop up in any relationship – whether it be romantic, work, parenting or in-laws. The important thing to remember is that appreciation must be expressed, or it does the relationship little good…and unexpressed gratitude can actually do damage. As author Andy Stanley says, “Unexpressed gratitude feels like ingratitude.” No relationship can thrive in a climate of ingratitude.

What might hinder us from noticing the gifts we can be grateful for? Perhaps it is the habit of looking back on the immense difficulty we have been through. Perhaps it is looking forward as we fear a loss or realize we have a need and don’t know how we will meet it. And we certainly need to acknowledge that holidays are just plain hard for some of us because of family dynamics, finances or loss to name just a few. These important realities will benefit from our attention and compassion.

Without us even noticing, it’s easy for our focus to take us out of the here and now where good life moments might be happening. Slowing down to notice and become aware is a gift we give ourselves and often others. It is in the noticing that we actually receive the gifts that surround us. And if the gift or kindness comes in the form of another person, we keep the gift exchange going by sharing our appreciation of them.

As I wrote this, I became aware of my yellow lab, Sako, who was lying at my feet. I got to stroke his body with my bare foot. I was soothed by his company, his warm body, the sensation of his smooth fur on the bottom of my foot, the comfort I have in his presence. My day was richer for taking a moment to receive his gift of companionship. My day was then made even richer as I expressed my gratitude to him in the way of petting him and offering him affection. It was a win-win.

We need to know from people (and perhaps pets) close to us that we matter, that we are appreciated, that we are valuable, that they have our back. Our lives are enriched as we share those same messages back to the people in our lives. So much happens in our lives that we could not manage or make it all on our own. Notice how it feels to our soul and in our body when we allow ourselves to receive unconditionally all that is around us. In the solitude of our own mind and heart, we can notice life, laughter, nature, design, flavors and comforts. Breathe them in. Open the gift that is for you and take delight. And from that joy, see if you are nudged to share back, “Thank you, I didn’t know how much I needed that. Perhaps, I didn’t know how much I needed you.”

As C.S. Lewis stated in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, “Gratitude exclaims… ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.” I wonder what gifts might be near us this Thanksgiving season, waiting for us to notice them, open them, relish them and find ourselves overflowing with sincere gratitude and adoration for even the simplest of people or provisions. Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I appreciate you!

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