With all the bleak and alarming news today, it can be really hard to remind ourselves of the things for which we can be thankful.  In fact, it can be easy for many of us to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? What have I done to deserve this?

But then there are those people, who in the face of difficult times, are able to remind themselves of what they do have.  They are able to display gratitude for their health, their family, and their friends.   How is it that, despite the turmoil that surrounds us, many people continue to show such a keen sense of gratitude?

What about you?  Do you appreciate life and consider all it has to offer as a special gift?  Does this mindset instill you with satisfaction and fulfillment?   Or, do you dwell on what life has denied you.  Are you stuck in a sense of deprivation and victimhood?  Life feels like a burden.  So, on which side of the fence do you normally find yourself?

The Oxford Dictionary definition is pretty straightforward.  It defines gratitude as “the quality or condition of being thankful” and “the appreciation of an inclination to return kindness.”   It is one of the most elevated and revered forms of human expression.   The researchers and authors who have delved into this subject have left us with invaluable insights into the nature of gratitude.

To begin with, the quality of gratitude can be both a state and a trait.  Meaning, some people only express gratitude from time-to-time, as a short-term response to specific events or episodes.  For example, you thank your co-worker for buying you a cup of coffee.   In this way, gratitude can be described as a state.

Yet for others, gratitude may reoccur more as a consistent personality strength or trait.  These are individuals who get up in the morning, grateful to be alive.  They just seem naturally hardwired to be appreciative as their default approach to life.  To be fair, both the “state and “trait” conditions of gratitude are equally valid ways of promoting well-being.  Real gratitude though goes beyond a simple behavioral reflex.  There is an emotional component to the quality that must be present for it to be authentic.  In other words, gratitude is something that is not just said, but it is felt.

Research has also indicated that gratitude is not a quality that is bestowed on some, but unavailable to others.  Rather it is something that we all can cultivate and increase in our lives.  True,  some of us are not as naturally inclined to be as grateful as others.  But fortunately, gratitude is a trait that we all can exercise and strengthen, like any physical muscle.  By structuring our lives to enhance an appreciative state of consciousness, we can build up our capacity to be grateful.  Through a practice of consciously focusing on life’s blessings, rather than its shortcomings, we can magnify the presence of this quality in our lives.  In the words of psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl: “We cannot necessarily change our circumstances.  But we have complete control over what we think about our circumstances, and the meaning we attach to them.  We can focus on the positive and make a difference by virtue of our attitude.”  More to come.