Gratitude Changes EverythingThanksgiving is more than a day to gather with family and friends, tune into football, and stuff ourselves with turkey and all the trimmings. It’s the one day out of 365 that is specifically dedicated to counting our blessings—and that’s a habit worth extending throughout the entire year.

Cultivating a grateful nature might seem difficult if relatives and friends are far away; you face health challenges or have suffered loss. But science tells us it is well worth the effort. People who make thankfulness a daily habit experience better physical and psychological health, sleep better, gain resilience and empathy and feel better about themselves and others. Contented elderly people have even more to gain; one study found they live 20 percent to 35 percent longer than less-happy peers.

How to encourage a more grateful nature? Try these suggestions to see which works best for you:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal—or don’t. Many people find it helpful to literally count their blessings by writing down five things they’re grateful for each day or keeping a notebook handy to jot down positive events as they happen. Others prefer to cultivate a “threshold ritual,” as happiness maven Gretchen Rubin describes it. That’s training yourself to be grateful every time you unlock your front door, wash your hands, or engage in another routine daily task.
  2. Start each day by meditating or by simply reflecting on things that make you happy and grateful, whether it’s your family, your health, your community or the frost dusting the lawn outside your window.
  3. Engage in activities that encourage gratitude. Does basking in nature lift your spirits? Does creating something beautiful fill you with wellbeing? Does joining friends for a game of pool or browsing the library make you happy? You can participate in those activities and more at Monarch Landing. Or how about joining Naperville’s monthly Infinite Love & Gratitude Night Out through meetup.com? And did you know some local shops are also getting into the gratitude habit? Great Harvest Bread Co. offers a “Gratitude Basket” of bread, honey and fruit spread, while Lil’ J’s Bohemia bills itself as “A Grateful Shop,” and the Gratitude-Heart-Garden Florist offers all sorts of ways to help you express your gratitude for someone or something.
  4. Take time to remember your lost loved ones. Allison Gilbert, author of Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, believes celebrating loved ones who have passed has “significant restorative power” and can empower survivors to “regain (their) footing and charge forward.”

Already feeling pretty grateful? You may be an older woman—the demographic that is the most grateful, according to Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor and author who has studied the science of gratitude for two decades. He describes gratitude as a choice and believes that, with dedicated practice, we can make it a habit and experience the “calm energy” that results.

Emmons has created a short questionnaire that will help you determine your own “Gratitude Quotient.” But however you score, remember: It’s never too late to count your blessings and cultivate a thankful nature.