A friend once told me of two interesting phone calls she received, one after the other. The first caller wanted to let off steam. “I can’t believe this weather! It’s raining, and my children are home; I don’t know how I will keep them occupied … ” A few minutes later, the phone rang again; a different mother was on the line. “Wow! Did you look out the window? Rain! We haven’t had any in months! I’m getting the children all dressed and going out! I think we’ll take a bus and enjoy the scenery.”

What is the secret of the second caller’s outlook? She takes a situation, finds in it an element for which she can be grateful and uses the event to its fullest capacity as a gift from G‑d.

How important is gratitude? Jews are called Yehudim from the word Yehudah, the root of which means “to thank.” Gratitude is our essence.

So contemplate: We are in this world with an amazing, functioning body. We have eyes to enjoy gorgeous scenery, family, pictures and books. We have millions of taste buds to relish our food. Ears to take pleasure in all kinds of sounds: nature, singing, instruments and voices. And so much more!

All of us have much to be thankful for. Certainly, if we have our health and livelihood, we must thank G‑d for that. However, even those of us challenged with illness and/or hardship can be grateful for being alive, despite our challenges.

The Torah is full of examples of gratitude ranging from Noah thanking G‑d for keeping him alive during the flood to Moses not striking the Nile River because it had saved his life.

Our challenge is to inculcate this awareness within ourselves. By showing appreciation towards the people we interact with, we can build up to truly feeling gratitude to G‑d. Since gratefulness is an internal quality that is not dependent on others, we can be proactive and express gratefulness whenever we like; anything at all can be a stimulus.

Here are some ideas on how to get into the mindset of gratitude:

  1. Begin by removing the “they owe me” attitude. Tell yourself again and again until you truly believe it: “No one owes me anything.” That includes, but isn’t limited to, your spouse, parents, children and neighbors.
  2. Gratitude begins upon awakening with the first prayer of “Modeh Ani.” Good morning! You are alive!
  3. As you recite any blessing, such as for food, take a minute to truly appreciate the words and thank G‑d for it.
  4. Look at the world anew, as if you are marveling at it for the first time. Imagine a blind fellow, unable to see since the day he was born, who gets amazing news when he visits his doctor. “Here is this new medicine. You can only take it once a day, but right after swallowing this pill, you will be able to see for an hour. Enjoy!” Take a few minutes to imagine his reaction. Every waking minute would be spent planning what to see and read and do during that precious hour. Vary this exercise by considering other abilities you have: the ability to speak, sing, hear, taste, walk, feel, even to think.
  5. Delve into every detail of anything from which you benefit. Enjoying an orange? Cup of coffee? Peanut butter? Contemplate in detail how brilliantly G‑d has designed the world. Consider the many people we must be grateful to for even these “simple” luxuries. Think about all the workers and processes that were involved in enabling you to enjoy any item.
  6. As you interact with people, try to think of something for which to thank them. Neighbors, cashiers, city workers, bus drivers; everyone will be glad to get a smile and a thank you.
  7. Don’t neglect your family. Your husband and children will greatly benefit from daily gratitude; it’s as important as a daily vitamin! (And don’t forget your mother-in-law and other extended family members.)
  8. Take this one step further: Don’t just think about your gratitude, train yourself to verbalize it. “I just wanted to thank you for being my devoted life partner, such a considerate neighbor, accurate cashier. For keeping our city clean, driving safely, teaching my children.”
  9. In cases where a particularly great kindness was done for you, express yourself with more specific details. Think of people who have helped you in some way in the past. Pick up the phone or write a note and thank them. A teacher, an old mentor or friend, employee or roommate.
  10. Your parents have done, and perhaps are still doing, so much for you. Try to regularly think of different things for which you can thank them. Dip into your memory bank and make use of what you find there. Realize that whatever success you have in life, although you may not wish to think of it this way, very likely can be attributed to what your parents (and/or siblings) have done. Even if you have negative feelings toward them, you can, with some effort, reframe and cultivate feelings of gratitude. A friend of mine confided in me that she has always been disappointed in her mother’s lack of interest in her life. Then a mentor suggested that perhaps because of that she was able to grow emotionally and spiritually. She realized that she could tell her mother, “Mom, raising my children makes me aware of how much I have to thank you for all you did for me.”
  11. As you converse with friends and family, be alert. If they have given you encouragement, thank them. Just keep looking for opportunities; you will find them. Deliberate on this theme and keep your eyes open.
  12. Although words and notes are appreciated, gifts and actions can sometimes speak louder. For example, my mother loves starting her day baking and enjoys gifting bags of cookies to the many people who help her. Since she has stopped driving, she has become the recipient of rides from many kindhearted people to which she can express her appreciation through these tangible gifts. We can each find our own way to put our words into action.

We can all alter a tendency to find fault or complain by developing a positive outlook that will lead us to better enjoying our lives. When people thank us, our reaction is a desire to do more. The more we thank G‑d, the more blessing He, too, wants to give us.