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Everyone can benefit from having gratitude

Question: I always struggle this time of year with the whole Thanksgiving thing. I know I should be more grateful than I am. How can I get a better handle on this?

Jim: We could all use a little more gratitude. The good news is that more is available to all of us. We just have to choose to be grateful.

That’s what Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott said after reviewing a mountain of research about gratitude spanning 15 years. They concluded that happiness has a lot more to do with our choices than with our circumstances. We can control the shape of our own happiness by choosing gratitude.

That will come as a surprise to a lot of people, but research backs it up. According to the data, about 50 percent of our happiness is biological. That is, we each have a baseline of happiness that’s natural to us. We’ll swing a little this way or that, but we usually come back to our set point. Roughly 10 percent of happiness is due to our circumstances.

That means 40 percent — nearly half of our happiness — is determined by where we focus our attention … on the positive or on the negative. The Wall Street Journal has even pointed to studies that show adults who choose to feel grateful have more energy, more optimism and more social connections than those who don’t — all of which are contributors to happiness. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious or greedy. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and are sick less often.

Gratitude is key to a happy life. And it’s there for the taking. You have to choose to see it — and it starts with focusing on (and appreciating) what you do have instead of lamenting what you don’t.

Question: I’ve been married for about five months. This is our first holiday season together, and I’m shocked at how stressed my wife is getting about Thanksgiving dinner. My family never made a big deal of it. What am I supposed to do?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: A big part of marriage is learning to adapt and compromise. One of the first areas where many couples need to apply this in practice is when the holidays roll around.

You already identified that the differences in how you and your wife were raised make a tangible impact on how you each see this issue. It sounds like she might come from a family that puts elaborate effort and preparation in to what could be the main social gathering of the year. Maybe itás the one time when all the relatives get together — which could be good or bad, depending on the dynamics. However it plays out, clearly sheás grown up with some pretty steep expectations for the season. Meanwhile, you may have come from a home where some turkey, football and a nap made for a satisfying holiday for all concerned.

The important thing to do is talk about it. Listen carefully to your wife and determine why she feels the pressure. Then dialogue about the extent to which those expectations might be realistic for the two of you. If she finds real fulfillment in preparing and hosting a classic Thanksgiving meal, invite some friends over and make a day of it. But if sheás reluctantly trying to match Grandmaás epic culinary extravaganzas, reassure her that your love for her doesnát depend on the size of the feast.

Over time, you can reach a happy balance. Sometimes leftovers will suffice. Other times youáll want to step up the celebration. Pro tip: You should definitely help in the kitchen — or at least with cleanup afterward.

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Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

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