Gratitude. A popular topic this time of year as we give thanks over an elaborate meal and start reflecting on the past 12 months. We've heard the cliches time and time again. . .there is always something to be grateful for, it's not happy people who are grateful, it's grateful people who are happy, etc. I wholeheartedly believe all of these sentiments but sometimes it's just not that easy. We know we should be grateful for the roof over our head and the food in the fridge but are having a hard time feeling that gratitude when it feels like everything is going wrong. I'd like to offer some thoughts to help you feel even the tiniest ounce of gratitude this season. Because as we know, you can't start a fire without a flame, and it only takes one tiny, little spark to get that flame going.

1. If you are reading this, you are in fact alive. A living, breathing being. Your life might really suck at this moment, but you still have a life. In the time it took you to get to this paragraph, 105 people have lost their life. They no longer get to have hopes and dreams. They don't get to fight with their father or drown their sorrows in whiskey. You are here and that means you have hope and you have opportunity and you owe it to those 105 people to spend whatever moments you have left, living. And if things aren't so great right now, that is OK. You don't have to feel happy, you don't have to feel hopeful, but you have to understand how freaking lucky you are that you are still here and you still have a chance.

2. Are you feeling sad or angry? Good, you're feeling something. We try so hard to avoid feeling anything negative and to always put on a happy face, but what if instead, we were grateful that we felt anger or sadness? That tells me something meant enough to you that you are able to feel an incredibly strong emotion. Are you angry at a friend or family member right now? Be grateful you have a relationship that means enough to get angry about. Are you sad over the loss of a loved one? That means you had someone in your life that meant enough to you that you are missing them and feeling sadness over the loss. When we're wrapped up in these emotions, it's virtually impossibly feel any sense of gratitude for it, so maybe ignore that word and just focus on feeling whatever it is you feel and let it be. Something or someone meant enough to you that you are experiencing extreme emotions and that truly is a beautiful thing.

3. When it feels as though the world is crashing down and you just can't find any sense of gratitude for anything, quit looking at the big picture. Maybe that warm cup of coffee was the only good thing about your week, so be it. Focus on that coffee and be glad for those few moments of joy. If you are battling a bout of depression and the best you could do is make it out of bed to grab a bowl of cereal, then celebrate the sh** out of that bowl of cereal. Sometimes the big picture is scary, and overwhelming, and miserable, but if you break it down, there is something good there, you just have to find it.

4. Make the choice. I've had friends ask how I manage to stay so positive and optimistic most of the time. I've heard comments stating that is just who I am. No, that is not just who I am. It's a choice I make. I wake up with the same stresses as everyone around me. . financial worries, the state of our country and climate, problems with relationships, health concerns, the list goes on but I make a choice. I make a choice to savor every moment for what it is. I make a choice to be grateful for the roof over my head even if it needs a bunch of repairs. I make a choice to be embrace the stress of a busy day because that means I have a job. I can chose to post a million rants on Facebook about politics or I can spend that time researching ways to get involved and post a picture of something beautiful that may cheer someone up. Everything is a choice and I want my choices to leave, not just the world around me a better place, but to leave myself a better person.

And in case you thought I forgot this was a blog about the outdoors, when all else fails, go outside, take a deep breath and get back to the simple things. Your kids will remember the time you spend together hiking far more than they will remember what trendy toy they got for Christmas in 2017. Your heart rate and stress level will thank you for opting outside on Black Friday over battling a million people for a TV you don't need. Gratitude is not found in a big screen or cheap piece of furniture, it's found in moments of peace and reflection and nature. One of my favorite quotes is "there are short cuts to happiness and dancing is one of them." I would add, there are short cuts to gratitude and getting outside is one of them. It's really hard to look up at the stars on clear night and not feel grateful for this one beautiful life you get to live.

*Please note, this post is not meant to touch on clinical depression. We understand the seriousness of depression and would encourage anyone dealing with it to speak with a medical professional.

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