Here's why being thankful needs to happen more than once a year

In my booklet, "5 Habits of Happy People" one of the habits is gratitude. Gratitude will make you a happy person. Expressing gratitude can provide an immediate, gratifying and sustained boost of happiness.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of the positive psychology movement, did a study where 411 people performed a variety of tasks to boost happiness levels. In one task participants were asked to write thank you letters to people from their past and then hand deliver them. The folks who completed this task continued to have a happier attitude an entire month later.

Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California, Davis has found that people who say “thank you” and express gratitude get a pervasive and long-lasting mood boost. In his book "Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier" he reports that “regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent.” So, thank you for reading this article.

Being thankful needs to be regular and happen more than once a year at Thanksgiving. In fact, research by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California, Riverside indicates there are powerful benefits to being grateful but only if you say thanks consistently. She says, “If you don’t do it regularly, you’re not going to get the benefits. It’s kind of like going to the gym once a year. What would be the good of that?”

Gratitude is a habit we develop. It’s not just a spontaneous emotion. Gratitude is appreciating, focusing on and being thankful for what we have and not what we don’t have. Practicing gratitude is challenging. Because we live in a culture bombarding us with advertising designed to focus on what we don’t have.

It’s important to have an attitude of gratitude then you will be constantly aware of the blessings in your life. Your attitude towards life changes when you are thankful. We tend to count our problems more than our blessings. Gratitude causes us to be more positive, gracious and loving.

Too much time can be spent complaining and not enough time spent being grateful. In I Thessalonians 5:18 we read, “Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.” We can always find reasons to complain and criticize but it takes more effort to find reasons to be thankful.

We are encouraged to be thankful “whatever happens” which is certainly a challenge. But a lack of gratitude will result in your never being truly happy and when things don’t go well you will be angry and bitter.

Gratitude should always begin with God and all the blessings He has brought into our lives. A good practice is to begin each day with thanks to God. Take the time to identify the five greatest blessings in your life. This should result in a greater appreciation of God’s goodness to you.

There are many ways to help us be more thankful. One is what I call the “last time” approach. If you think that this may be the last time you ever (kissed your spouse, played with your kids, relaxed on a beach) it helps you to appreciate the simple blessings in your life.

Another is at the end of each day write down all the positives in your day. Try doing this for two weeks and you will be amazed at how many good things really do happen in your life. And you’ll become much more alert for all that makes you grateful.

Look for the small things that make you grateful. A beautiful day, a string of green lights, a family gathering, medication when you are sick, help from a friend. There are many more if we look for them.

Emphasize gratitude for people more than just things. We need to make sure they know that we appreciate them. Do it in person, by a handwritten note, by email or text. Identify a friend, family member, teacher, mentor or colleague. Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like buying a gift and not giving it.

A great way to keep a gratitude focus is having a gratitude jar or box. Drop in little slips of paper with specific events or people you are thankful for throughout the year. Then take them all out and read them on New Year’s Eve.

The key is that we are consistent in our gratitude. A surge of appreciation followed by a lengthy period of inaction is not our aim. Don’t just be grateful at Thanksgiving or only practice gratitude occasionally. Make gratitude an attitude and enjoy a happy life.