Many of us just celebrated Thanksgiving; certainly one of the most beloved American holidays of the year. A time to be thankful and grateful for what we have, if ever there was one.

Thanksgiving is, in fact, an event, along with Christmas, that some might call: "The picture perfect holiday." -At least that's the way Norman Rockwell painted it. But families, while often wonderful, are usually far from perfect. Kids argue, babies cry, parents get tired from all the preparation, tempers sometimes flare.

We may struggle to get along with in laws who are there, and we may feel sad about children who are not. Or maybe it’s just that the gray wasn’t thick enough. We didn't get our favorite pie. We ate too much. Our expectations simply weren’t met in some way. We end up feeling disappointed and, as a result, we don’t feel grateful.

Focusing on a lack of some sort may keep us from being happy. This sense of lack sometimes comes when we compare ourselves to others. Often the grass looks greener on someone else’s side of the fence. But no matter whose grass we’re looking at, the fact is that no one out there has a perfect lawn!

To have the faith to be grateful, then, is to accept both people and things for what they are. Having a grateful heart means we love and embrace what we have without worrying about what we don't have, or what we wish we were and are not.

The Greek philosopher Epicetus said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

And so, in order to be happy and grateful, we choose to love our imperfect families, and even ourselves, warts and all. We love husbands who snore, children who resist doing chores, and siblings who always seem to arrive late.

We work to forgive our parents for not being perfect beings, we treasure friends who aren't always there for us, we smile at cranky coworkers, and we try to love others.

And as we do, our hearts are filled with gratitude. And we literally feel better.
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough have written that gratitude is the "forgotten factor" in happiness research. They point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness.

(Note that we can’t just feel grateful. We must actually express gratitude to others in order to achieve better physical and mental health.)

Clearly, there are decided benefits to being grateful that accrue to both ourselves and others.

But what about when life's problems are bigger than a disappointing trip, cranky coworkers, or crying children? What about when we struggle with poor health, the loss of jobs, the death of loved ones, old age, or loneliness? Can we remain grateful even in the face of serious life changing events?

While even God weeps, and we must too in order to get through the tough times, we can and should eventually find joy in the journey, and thus again find ourselves grateful for what we have.

Our quality of life both physically and mentally literally improves when we do.

Choose the faith to be grateful.