Many years ago a famous comedian was a guest on a late-evening talk show.  He opined to the host that Christmas was a useless holiday, “as it is only a once-a-year effort at being cheerful.”  The host, to his credit, immediately replied:  “Yes, but better once a year than never at all.” The audience applauded wildly. 

Clearly this moment made a great impression on me, as 30 years later, it is my primary remembrance of that world-popular comedian. One casual remark branded him as The Grinch in my mind forever.   

With the holidays now behind us, we face what I often consider my personal Grinch-making season … the Season of Resolutions.  Is it just me, or does the word “resolution” itself imply the need to do something one would rather NOT do? Diet? Exercise more? Worse, arise before dawn to exercise?  Hey, it’s January and it’s cold out there, and I maintain that such rigors are simply out of their proper orbit during this time.   

Still, having NO goal at all seems a bit, well, feckless.

At Rotary meetings, we have a segment called “Health and Happiness,” and I like the idea of a goal that accomplishes both of these.  And so I was delighted to read of a study conducted at Kent State University that found: “We have at our disposal a health-promoting resource that can make us happier, more satisfied, and possibly less depressed.  It is called Gratitude.”

Wow – how exactly does that work? How does being grateful engage a state of happiness, too?  Apparently the key is to actually express that gratitude.  The Kent State study discovered that “if you express gratitude toward others, you will feel better. Your well-being will improve. Expressing gratitude does wonders not only for the recipient, but also for the person who takes time to share it.”

During the holidays, we have ample opportunities to express gratitude. Gratitude for gifts received, meals offered, celebrations shared. And at the Foundation, we are constantly inspired by the demonstrations of care and generosity that abound among our donors, and we hope our thank you letters to them express a measure of our appreciation.

But how to extend the often-perfunctory thank-you notes into something genuinely meaningful? That appears to be the key to harnessing the amazing power of gratitude.  And the “how to” is a highly personal discovery. 

There are many ways of intentionally expressing gratitude, and no one way will work for all of us, all the time.  But writing intentional letters of gratitude each week, taking a moment to verbally share thanks with someone, or even keeping a gratitude journal are some time-tested ideas.  Focus on the thankful recognition of people and things that touch your life, and the blessings may redound to both the recipient and to you.   

Sound too New Age-y?  Listen to this. In 50 B.C., the Roman philosopher Cicero wrote that “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” To me, that sounds like a good place to start in the journey to a meaningful New Year’s resolution. 

The point is: the more we are grateful and show gratitude for all the blessings in our lives, the more we will receive in kind.  Appreciation, appreciates. And it’s not a holiday-only behavior, but one that can translate into immeasurable benefits throughout the year.

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