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Gratitude: a healthy recipe for Thanksgiving

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"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.

The boy had no winter coat. A teacher found what Froh describes as an "old-man sport jacket" for the boy to wear, a coat that a poor kid in a status-conscious setting might see as worse than nothing. This kid, on the other hand, bubbling over with enthusiasm, saw Froh in the hall and ran to him.

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