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Bonnie Brown: Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude in 2018

January can be a challenging month, even though we often celebrate the new year with great jubilation—champagne, fireworks, glitz! Reality follows quickly on the heels of the joy and optimism we felt with the new calendar, bringing concerns over the holiday spending we considered essential, the focus on our bodies and food intake, and the short days of limited daylight adding to our gloom.
In truth, we should adjust our thinking to remember all the things for which we should be grateful. I know that sounds pretty easy, but it really isn’t. We get mired down in our own misery and/or lack of self-awareness. But in truth, we live in a country that, while not perfect, offers to most of us all the creature comforts as well as the reassurance that we can safely go about our daily lives with food and shelter, surrounded by our family and friends.
The recent headlines would have you believe our country is morally bankrupt and people are fundamentally “bad.” But I think we should look at this time as an opportunity to examine our own moral code. Yes, I’ve been quick to judge, I’ve said things that I later regretted, I’ve indulged in gossip, and I readily acknowledge there is much room for improvement. I’m a work in progress. My resolution for 2018 is to be more understanding, more empathetic, less judgmental and more humble.
I’m reminded of a quote: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” It sounds so simple, but how many of us are consciously grateful each day? If each of us looked for things to be grateful for, we would truly live a more joyous life.
Think about how you feel when you are grateful for some small act of kindness—someone holding the door for you, your spouse taking out the garbage, someone complimenting you. The same is also true when someone acknowledges your intentional acts of kindness. How many times during the day do you perform intentional acts of kindness? How many times is your kindness acknowledged? Showing gratitude is a powerful thing!
Everyday job concerns, dealing with difficult people, financial worries and living in relative close quarters with loved family members can breed frustration and easily cause you to forget to be grateful. I admit to doing lots of grousing about little things that seem to be the focus of my attention, and it usually takes a little bit of a meltdown for me to realize that my focus should not be on something over which I have little or no control, but on being grateful for those things that I am able to bring to a satisfying conclusion. Fostering an “attitude of gratitude” fends off depression, decreases stress and anxiety and promotes better sleep, all of which makes you healthier!
The beginning of a new year often brings with it our declarations to lose weight, to be more fiscally responsible, to do more volunteering, to model compassion, to be more patient. Yet, we realize, even when we are making those New Year resolutions, that they will likely be short-lived. Our resolutions are not limited to a new calendar year. There’s always more than one chance for a fresh start—a new moon, a birthday, anniversary, or even the beginning of a new week.
I would suggest that each of us vow to be more mindful each day for all that we have and express gratitude. As William Faulkner said, “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: It must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all. “
Perhaps our new year can begin with a pronouncement that we will express our gratitude and daily perform intentional acts of kindness. And maybe, just maybe, this will give us a bit of peace and calm for the day and a vision that our world will become a better place because of our own actions.

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

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