Prac­tis­ing grat­i­tude has al­ways tripped up writer Kate Rae, but this year, she’s em­brac­ing the idea.

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Can prac­tis­ing grat­i­tude pro­mote hap­pi­ness, op­ti­mism and good health?

Ask any of my stepchil­dren and they’ll agree: The quick­est way to in­duce a long, an­gry rant is to whine, “It’s not fair!” (Also ef­fec­tive: “I’m bored….”) I can go on and on about how fair­ness has noth­ing to do with who gets the slightly larger cookie, and how im­por­tant it is to be thank­ful for all of the in­cred­i­ble priv­i­leges we have. And yet, I scroll right by those in­spir­ing quotes about thank­ful­ness posted by fam­ily and friends on Face­book. I’ve scoffed at the no­tion of keep­ing a grat­i­tude jour­nal, a daily di­ary of things in my life to be thank­ful for, as seen on Oprah and in many stud­ies about hap­pi­ness. (De­spite all the ev­i­dence to rec­om­mend it, keep­ing one just doesn’t feel like me.)

But ac­cord­ing to the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley’s Greater Good Sci­ence Cen­ter, peo­ple who prac­tise grat­i­tude are more joy­ful and op­ti­mistic and less lonely. I would love to ex­pe­ri­ence all of those things, so why do I get all twisted in­side when I hear about prac­tis­ing grat­i­tude?

The big­gest rea­son is that it some­times feels disin­gen­u­ous. If I com­mit to be­ing more grate­ful, am I still al­lowed to vent when my stepchil­dren’s lunches come home un­eaten? Do I have to keep mum about the crazi­ness of a job or wor­ries re­lated to my health? Women’s lives are stress­ful; hear­ing “but think of the good stuff” can sound (and feel) aw­fully si­lenc­ing.

Ear­lier this year, though, I de­cided it was time to give grat­i­tude a real chance; I wanted to see first­hand if it would change my out­look. Then, a stream of hor­ri­ble things hap­pened—it felt like ev­ery night on the news there was an­other tragedy, and it felt like the whole world was go­ing to im­plode. Putting aside a few min­utes a day to think about all the awe­some things in my life felt both unim­por­tant and dis­re­spect­ful. Grat­i­tude is meant to be a prac­tice of thank­ful­ness and pos­i­tiv­ity, and I wor­ried it would feel smug: “At least I’m not them.”

But I hun­kered down and tried it. While I wouldn’t go as far as a jour­nal, I did try to spend a few min­utes each day feel­ing thank­ful. I stayed far away from the ma­te­rial things and, in­stead, fo­cused on peo­ple: friends, fam­ily, strangers and mo­ments of con­nec­tion, both big and small. I was grate­ful for get­ting to hear a four-year-old’s thoughts on life, and grate­ful that, though there’s a lot of hor­ri­ble stuff hap­pen­ing in the world, there’s also a lot of good. Fred Rogers, of Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood fame, of­ten re­peated what his mother had said when he was a child fright­ened by scary life events: “Look for the helpers. You will al­ways find peo­ple who are help­ing.” I also looked for the fight­ers, the ones who are ac­tively and re­lent­lessly try­ing to make the world a fairer place.

And some­thing clicked. Al­low­ing my­self small mo­ments of grat­i­tude didn’t feel as drain­ing as I thought it would; it felt up­lift­ing, even restora­tive. I re­al­ized that grat­i­tude as a goal still makes me squirmy. But grat­i­tude as a start­ing point for change? That makes sense. Ap­pre­ci­at­ing what we have can help us un­der­stand what other peo­ple, both far away and closer to home, don’t have. It re­minds us to ask, “What can I do about that? How can I help?”

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