In light of the fact that Thanksgiving is approaching, I thought gratitude might be an appropriate topic for this column. The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace, graciousness or grateful depending on the context in which it is used. The Oxford Dictionary defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Some may think the title to this article a little strange, arguing that gratitude is not a gift rather it is the result of a gift received. While that is certainly one aspect of gratitude, I think there are good arguments for seeing it as a gift in itself. Studies have shown that people who are more grateful experience many resulting benefits such as: better relationships and more friends, improved productivity and performance, better sleep, lower stress levels — including lower blood pressure resulting in reduced heart issues, they are sick less often, and enjoy better mental and physical health.

Researchers believe some people may be more naturally predisposed to being grateful due to genetic make up, brain structure and personality. Research has revealed genes that appear to influence gratitude and evidence suggests that some people may be predisposed to not only being less sensitive to positive life events, but also supersensitive to negative life events. One such study responded to these findings by implementing “gratitude interventions,” which resulted in positive changes in the brain. These interventions included study members recording positive observations daily, as well as weekly writing a thank-you note to someone or offering thanks in person.

When studying the personality aspects related to that of ingratitude, researchers cited envy, materialism, narcissism, and cynicism to be the “thieves of thankfulness.” Envy and materialism both involve dwelling on what we do not have, which is a quick path to ingratitude. By changing the focus to positive considerations, the brain can be rewired for resilience and optimism over time. Researchers found that study participants who were asked to write down five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks felt more satisfied with their lives and were still happier three weeks later than those who did not complete the gratitude practice. Perhaps gratitude is a bit like a muscle in need of regular exercise or practice to produce sustained benefit and that once it is part of our routine (i.e., habit) it becomes a natural expression. By paying attention to good things that happen in our life and feeling grateful for them we shift our focus away from more negative emotions. Studies show that people who are more grateful will automatically think about things that happen to them, even bad things, in a more positive light.

Some interesting facts about grateful people: they on average give 20 percent more to charity, will have 10 percent fewer stress related illnesses, are more physically fit, have 12 percent lower blood pressure, have 7 percent higher earnings, have 13 percent fewer fights, are 20 percent more likely to get A grades, have more satisfying relationships and are better liked, grateful teens are 10 times less likely to start smoking and overall positive emotions can add up to seven years to your life.

Interestingly, gratitude is related to age — for every 10 years of life, gratitude increases by 5 percent. Personally, I experience thoughts of gratitude much more frequently now than in any time in my life and I think it is a result of the trials and tribulations of life. Nothing makes me more grateful that I’m not in pain as having experienced physical injury and illness, thankful for another day of life while mourning the loss of loved ones, and appreciative of creature comforts while witnessing the plight of those forced to flee their countries because of violence, starvation, and loss of hope. Interestingly the countries with the most grateful citizens are some of the poorest and least safe, such as South Africa, Philippines and India. Surely this refutes any who are quick to say that those who are more grateful simply have more to be grateful about.

If being grateful is a challenge for you, try writing down these three steps to gratitude:

1. Recognition — notice good things, look for them.

2. Acknowledgment — pay attention to those good things, savoring their goodness.

3. Appreciation — express your gratitude, write a note of thanks, or tell someone how much you appreciate them.

Post them somewhere you can see them every day and put them into practice.

While Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to exercise gratitude, the Bible calls all believers to be constantly grateful (1 Thessalonians. 5:18, Psalms 107:1). It is obvious that we all benefit from practicing it year-round both individually and societally, let’s try to outdo one another with gratitude.