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OPINION: Gratitude means saying 'thank you' really, really loudly

I gave myself the word "gratitude" on Dec. 31, 2019 with a commitment to research the topic – the science, its benefits, my relationship to it and how to do it better. What a stroke of luck that was.

I gave myself the word "gratitude" on Dec. 31, 2019 with a commitment to research the topic – the science, its benefits, my relationship to it and how to do it better.

What a stroke of luck that was.

While there were definitely some low moments in 2020, I am tremendously grateful for so much. To everyone who is helping our world move from "uncharted, confused and unprecedented" to feeling "confident that we can do this," I want to say with sincerity: thank you.

To all in our community who have heeded the advice of experts and risen to the COVID challenges: thanks for accepting your piece of personal responsibility.

To all who are trying to organize these storm clouds of challenge into prisms of future possibilities: thank you.

Psychologist and gratitude researcher Robert Emmons defines gratitude as an affirmation of goodness in the world. His research confirms that individuals who pay attention to the good stuff and who show their appreciation on a daily basis, enjoy life more fully.

The first step? You have to take time to pay attention and become aware of the great cast of supporting systems and structures that surround you. The best way to do that? Keep a gratitude journal.

Gratitude is not a nostalgic or momentary feel-good emotion. On the contrary, gratitude requires commitment.

It is both a mindset and a motivator; it is a default switch and mental muscle that needs discipline. By relaxing our "me-first" muscles, gratitude can shift thoughts in the direction of greater positivity, kindness, generosity and satisfaction.

With commitment, gratitude improves relationships, builds trust and consensus that "we each have a role to play and we each are enough." We have enough. We know enough. We are good enough.

The science confirms that gratitude increases our receptivity to feelings of wonder and joy. Gratitude helps us see the bright spots, feel more loved, more confident and improves relationships – to people, places, pets and things.

Many of us coped with COVID by enjoying our birds, our trails, our sunsets, rainbows and our big backyards.

The science of gratitude is abundant, rigorously tested and personally validated. Gratitude elevates levels of the feel-good hormones oxytocin and serotonin, which lowers stress levels, improves heart health and gives our immune systems a positive boost. Being grateful is a coping strategy when feeling lonesome, unsupported, and depleted.

This year, I deliberately connected with people who identify with the word gratitude. My conclusion? Grateful people are kind, considerate, sensitive, empathetic, open-minded, trustworthy and authentic.

My other conclusion? Grateful people find joy in nature and when we feel hassled, or want to get out of a funk, we go for a walk, savour a sunset or dig in the garden.

From being mandated to close our businesses, wear face masks in public, cancel events and abstain from socializing with friends, 2020 has poked holes in the fabric of community. But, with access to trails and refreshing walks in nature, gratitude shines rainbows in a year full of sorrows.

Gratitude is a life skill and a social skill that strengthens civil society. Gratitude is a refracting beam for discussions about sustainability, biodiversity, inclusion, and the greater common good.

With a focus on the good stuff, our community agendas can move forward with appreciation and rainbows of positivity. What's good for the individual, has to be good for community.

Try gratitude in 2021. Pay attention. Savour small delights. Keep a journal. Savour the good stuff, let go of the bad stuff and celebrate your enough-ness.

Then share your joys, loudly and proudly. Because as Gertrude Stein declared: "Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone."

If you are interested in joining an online Gratitude series via Zoom, contact  Next session starts Jan. 10. Sundays at 6 pm. Ground rules are basic ABC's: Accept differences. Be kind. Count your blessings.