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Gratitude: a healthy recipe for Thanksgiving

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Leslie Matula, whose Project Wisdom has provided character-education plans to some 18,000 public and private schools nationwide since 1992, says the grateful heart boosts energy and determination, helping students avoid getting bogged down when they encounter challenges.

"Gratitude is all about attitude. And attitude is a choice," says Ms. Matula. "Gratitude is important because once you learn to look through that lens of life, everything shifts. You no longer find yourself focusing on what's wrong with your life but what's good about your life."

Never mind what you're thankful for. It's your grateful heart that's good for you. And it's good for the rest of us, too, suggests Jeffrey J. Froh, assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y., who has studied gratitude extensively. "People really, really like grateful people," he says.

But like other virtues, this one is under threat, as a culturewide move toward materialism, self-reliance, and entitlement clouds the give-and-take essential for gratitude, experts say.

"There sometimes seems to be a spirit of complaint in the air," observes Patricia Campbell Carlson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living. As if in response, a cornucopia of thankfulness has spilled forth – via tweets, blogs, websites, and Facebook, through programs in the classroom and studies in the lab, through retreats and exercises, books and journals, workshops and symposiums, some New Age and others old-school. In spite of – or perhaps even because of – the cultural forces against it, says Ms. Carlson, "gratitude is also thriving."

But no one needs an app to recognize a thankful heart.

Case in point: Professor Froh tells of an 11-year-old boy from a poor neighborhood who got up at 5 every morning to be bused into the wealthier school district where Froh worked.

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