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IT'S OUR TURN: The power of 'thank you'

It often only takes a word or two to turn someone's day around. Two of the most powerful words are "Thank you!"

According to a quote on the website GratitudeHabit.com, "A simple thank you has magic...It warms the heart and creates a moment of connection and peace between two people."

The website was developed as "a place to embrace, inspire and bring to life the numerous blessing and opportunities available to each of us."

Its message is that the practice of gratitude daily opens our hearts in appreciation, contributing to a happier, more abundant life.

Jon Gordon published an online newsletter called "The Power of Thank You."

"These are two words that have the power to transform our health, happiness and success," he wrote. "When you are grateful, you flood your body with emotions and endorphins that uplift and energize you rather than the stress hormones that drain you."

Gordon shared five ways to practice giving thanks every day of the year.

• A daily "thank you" walk. While walking, say aloud what you are thankful for to set the tone for a positive day.

• Mealtime. Have each person at the table share one thing they are thankful for.

• Gratitude visit or letter. Express your gratitude to someone near or far away.

• Thanks in the workplace. Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant wrote approximately 30,000 thank-you notes during his career. Thank clients and customers, too.

• Goodnight thank-yous. End the day by reflecting on good things that happened.

A book I picked this summer is also filled with simple ideas on how to practice gratitude.

"Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life" was written by M.J. Ryan in 1999. The book is divided into short chapters that can be read one day at a time and include creative ideas for making gratitude come alive.

Young children are often prompted to say "thank you" in response to receiving a treat or a gift. When given a cookie, my two-year-old nephew Finn was asked "What do you say?" He smiled and said "thank you" with a big smile. While he may not know the exact meaning of the phrase, he knows it's a good thing to say and makes people happy.

The book "Thank you and Goodnight" by Patrick McDonnell is about a fun sleepover with friends and encourages children (and their parents) to cherish life's simple pleasures.

Ryan's book also includes a chapter on how to teach children to connect with a true sense of gratefulness. Each night at bedtime, ask your children to share one thing they appreciate about themselves (for example they are a good friend, they are great in math) and one thing someone else did that they are thankful for (their teacher helped them learn something new, a friend invited them to a birthday party).

"The more you help your children focus on what they appreciate about themselves, the more they will overflow with optimism, hopefulness and joy," she wrote.

When we grow up, it is easy to become busy in day to day living and take things for granted.

One way to keep thankfulness in focus is to keep a gratitude journal. In a small notebook, fill a page each night with a list of things you are thankful for. At the end of the year, you will have a keepsake of the best moments of that year. Some days when things are going well, it will be hard to stick to just one page. On more challenging days, it may be harder to think of what to write, but there will always be something, whether it's being able to see a beautiful sunset or hearing a kind word from someone. Or as one poster says, you can always "give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way."

In addition to helping you keep a positive focus, having a gratitude journal helps you remember to do something kind for others, even if it's just a simple thing like holding a door open for someone who is walking with a cane or telling a waitress you appreciated her good service.

Working at the newspaper, it is always a day brightener when someone who stops in says they enjoy our stories or have been helped by them in some way. We also get emails of thanks from people from time to time. I keep those in a "smile file" to take out when (as is inevitable from time to time) we have mistakes in a story or complaints about what we write. You can start your own smile file. Just label it and stick copies of emails or notes you receive in it. Also write down the positive comments you hear from people.

One person who stopped by to say thank you said, "I think it's important to take time to encourage people who are doing a good job because there are enough critics in the world."

Ryan's book includes a quote seen in a coffee shop in Chicago: "As you wander through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole."

The author also suggests thinking of gratitude as a flashlight. "Gratitude lights up what is already there. You don't necessarily have anything more or different, but suddenly you can actually see what is ... the first flower of spring struggling to emerge, a deer emerging through the scrub bush. It's just your ordinary backyard, but suddenly you are filled with gratitude, happiness and joy. The great thing about the flashlight of gratitude is that you can use it no matter where you are. All you need to do is turn it on."

Another quote I came across puts it this way: "A grateful heart is a magnet for miracles."

It's never too late to develop the gratitude habit.