That first November after my mother died was difficult.
November was her birthday month. I couldn't stop thinking about her, and the thoughts were complicated, much like our relationship. There was so much that I wanted to discuss with her, so many questions I wanted to ask. I felt sorry for myself.
What finally helped was a shift in perspective. I went on a retreat at the Well of Mercy -- a bed and breakfast run by a group of nuns on 110 acres of wooded hills just outside Harmony, N.C.
While I was there, I learned to stop dwelling on the time that my mother and I hadn't had together and started focusing on all that we did have. I thought about the blessings in our relationship instead of what was unresolved.
I left the retreat feeling fortunate instead of afflicted.
I've been thinking about that turnaround in my own life as I've seen friends making November a month of gratitude. Following the current trend, they post one thing that they're grateful for on social media each day leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.
I love the idea so much that I want to cheer.
But I also want to shout: Don't stop!
We all need to give ourselves the gift of gratitude year-round. You don't have to announce what you're grateful for publicly to reap the benefits.
As a health coach, I regularly advise clients to keep journals in which they write a few reasons for gratitude daily. It's wonderful to watch the difference it can make in times of stress simply to pause daily and think about how fortunate you are.
Sleep-deprived new moms think about the joy of watching their precious babies breathe. People facing conflict in their jobs think about how fortunate they are to be employed. Caregivers of elderly parents learn to cherish moments of humor and insights that they never would have had without that experience.
The proof isn't just anecdotal.
Experts like Robert A. Emmons, founding editor of The Journal of Positive Psychology, have tested the power of gratitude using the rigor of science. Emmons found that participants in an experiment who listed reasons they were grateful saw improvements in their mood and interpersonal relationships.
Still, there's nothing like trying it yourself. If you have never kept a gratitude journal, or perhaps if you've lapsed, why not make a fresh start this Thanksgiving? As others wind down their month of gratitude, you can begin a lifelong, life-changing habit.