Stecher: How to create a habit of giving thanks (column) | VailDaily.com

Stecher: How to create a habit of giving thanks (column)

Michelle Stecher
Valley Voices

While dedicating a day to giving thanks is a great excuse for many of us to spend time with family and friends, overindulge on a feast to the point of bloating, and of course having a much-deserved day off of work, I tend to reflect on why we only center one day of the year around gratitude.

Are there simple ways we can instill a culture of thankfulness into our family and community? Instead of complaining about a culture of entitled children, how can we shift to model gratitude and instill that attitude of appreciation in our children? I have made a concerted effort to do this over the last two years, and it has made a huge difference in my life and the way I look at challenges and opportunities.

Expressing sincere appreciation to another human may seem daunting, but it's good to remember that it doesn't require an investment of time or money to show someone how much you value them. Please remember that even a quick thank you can go a long way to brighten someone's day. Keys are to be specific ("thank you for making a difference by …"), and to deliver in a personal manner.

Dip your toe in

Say thank you to three people every day. These can be co-workers, family members or even strangers you interact with like grocery store clerks or baristas at the coffee shop. Dig a little deeper by thanking them for a specific action they took, such as sharing a great smile or going that extra mile to accommodate your extra-hot, no-foam latte. Sure, it's their job, but isn't it nice to be noticed for trying a little harder?

Get both feet wet

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Write it down. I am personally a fan of the traditional hand-written thank you card. There is something about the practice of picking up a pen and scribing my thoughts on something tangible that makes it feel more "real." While this may trigger memories of a parent or grandparent forcing these habits onto you as a child, think about how heartwarming (and rare) it is to open a piece of personal mail that is not a bill or piece of junk mail. A few kind words left for someone on an unexpected sticky note are also a nice treat — to give and receive!

Fully immerse

Pick up that phone. — for something other than to reply to a text, check the online shopping sales or check your social media feed. Dial that number and call someone unexpectedly, simply to thank them. You may surprise them, and yourself, as how such a quick effort can produce smiles for the day!

It might seem obvious that investing minimal effort can reap major benefits to others we share our appreciation with. Practice counting your blessings regularly and reflect on what you are grateful for and you, as a giver, will have an overall more positive quality of life as well.

Benefits of expressing gratitude:

Optimism can improve our immune systems and boost dopamine and serotonin in our brains, according to neuroscience researcher Dr. Alex Korb.

Stress reduction — sharing gratitude can reduce cortisol and other stress hormones, according to neuroscience researcher Dr. Alex Korb.

Improved sleep habits — In a study of 400 people conducted by Nancy Digdon and Amy Koble, "Making nightly lists of things one is grateful for can improve duration and quality of sleep." What is stopping you from keeping a gratitude journal on your nightstand?

Psychological benefits are numerous and include lowered risk of depression, support in overcoming trauma, improved mental resiliency, empathy and improved self-esteem.

Finally, volunteer

There are hundreds of amazing nonprofit organizations working tirelessly to serve the underserved in our community. Opportunities exist for families and individuals, one-time or consistently, to have fun while making a tangible difference. Giving of ourselves helps to offer a sense of perspective and opens pathways to amazing relationships. Check out upcoming volunteer opportunities at the Eagle River Youth Coalition's community volunteer listings (eagleyouth.org "Get Involved") or at Vail Valley Partnership's Volunteer Connection (visitvalleypartnership.com).

In closing, I would like to give a big shout out to those that make my life even more amazing. Thank you to my loving family, passionate group of colleagues, board members and supporters at the Eagle River Youth Coalition, and to everyone else that pours their hearts into making our community a more vibrant place to live and play.

Michelle Stecher is the executive director of the Eagle River Youth Coalition.