The year of living thankfully

(CNN)Logically speaking, we should be in a perpetual state of gratitude. Most people who read this column, even if they aren’t fully aware, have a long list of blessings to count (most of the time, anyway).

Family. Friends. Love. Health. Freedom from war and natural disaster. Imagination. Community. A roof over our heads. Common decency. Hope. Opportunity. Memories. Financial stability. Favorite places. Days off work. Good weather. The golden age of television. Books. Music. Ice cream. Weekends. A friendly exchange. Something good that happened today. Something bad that didn’t happen today. A good cup of coffee.


    Roses, Thorns & Buds (or RTB, among its devotees) has been part of so many family dinners since my older daughter was 4 years old that I’ve forgotten where we first heard about it. It’s quite simple: Everyone at the table takes turns sharing “roses,” which are something positive and happy-making about their day; “thorns,” which are the opposite of that; and “buds” for something we’re looking forward to and we anticipate will be a rose. Sometimes, the family meal and sharing these things itself is a rose.
    Granted, the “thorn” doesn’t necessarily increase gratitude — though it’s still useful from a family discussion, empathy and problem-solving perspective. And if you can fix a problem, a rose may grow in that thorn’s place.
    Here are our unscientific findings: Each time, we find that we have many roses and buds and usually only one thorn to share.
    Friends have told us about effective variations on this technique, so one size doesn’t fit all. If the metaphor is too flowery for you, pick another. Home runs, strikeouts and on deck? The important thing is to connect to the thankfulness in this way, whether you do it most evenings or on the occasional weekend. It’s also an easy way for kids to get into a thankfulness habit themselves.
    Happiness jars, a strategy popularized by “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert, is something of a hybrid of gratitude journal and RTB. The idea is to write down on a slip of paper the happiest moment of the day and drop it in a jar. The advantage of doing it this way is that in moments of unhappiness, you can reach into the jar and be reminded of those moments, perhaps becoming grateful for them anew. Gilbert was struck by how many of her fans shared photos of their decorated happiness jars (see Pinterest if you need inspiration) and by how her happiest moments are “generally really common and quiet and unremarkable.”
    And there are other experiments to try. You could set alarms/reminders on your phone to pause and think of something you are grateful for at different times of the day: Mornings help set the tone of the day, and reflecting while at work can be particularly useful. You can then record them on a gratitude journaling app.

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    Or you could just focus on the simple act of saying thank you, and meaning it, more frequently. Writing letters of thanks (or emails if you want to be faster and more frequent) to those for whom you are grateful is worth doing with some regularity. You can also express gratitude with gifts, flowers and favors. Or simply make of list of all the things we take for granted but would be so unhappy to lose, such as job security, health, seeing loved ones. Review that list every week or so.
    Whatever way you start infusing your life with more moments of gratitude, in the short and long term, you will be grateful that you did.

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