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Thankful Thinking

Just as it's best to engage in year-round tax planning instead of waiting for April Fool's Day, we'd probably all be better off if we maintained a continuous "attitude of gratitude." Still, it doesn't hurt to have at least one day of the year officially dedicated to being thankful, to remind us of what we should be practicing all the time. Better late than never, right?

Here are five things I'm thankful for … even if I don't express my gratitude nearly as often as I should.

  1. My family – I love my three healthy kids and wonderfully patient wife more than I can say.
  2. My friends – My friends are my people, whose company I enjoy and insights I respect, and with whom I can share life's highs and lows. Where would I be without them?
  3. My health – So far, so good. Health is one of those things I tend to take for granted, and I really shouldn't.
  4. My country – If we look past the daily turmoil, we still enjoy a remarkable degree of freedom and opportunity that should not be underestimated.
  5. My career – Speaking of opportunity, I'm so grateful to have a business model and investment strategy that lets me support my family and rest easy at night, knowing I'm also supporting my clients' highest financial interests.

With so much to be grateful for, you'd think I'd never have anything to gripe about. But, as my wife can attest to, I often lose sight of how very fortunate I am. Why is that? Like anyone, I tend to mope over what's wrong with the world and my own life, instead of savoring what's right.

That's partly my fault. Okay, that's mostly my fault. But I could also allocate some of the blame to the never-ending stream of bad news in the popular press. "If it bleeds it leads" may be an old saying, but as evidenced during the recent election mania, the expression is clearly alive, well, and still preying on our primal fears and doubts.

That's not to say there aren't a number of media representatives whose work I admire. For example, there's The Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig, a longtime advocate for responsible journalism. In "Consuming Financial News Without Being Consumed By It," he reminds us that fixating on breaking news is more likely to hurt than help your investments. "Financial journalism is in the change business," he says, "focusing on whatever has just changed, and focusing most intently on whatever has just changed the most and the fastest."

So what should we do instead? Here are three tips to energize your gratitude attitude:

Remember that gratitude is a choice. There will always be good and bad events we can't control, but we can control how we react to them – where to devote our limited time and energy.

Fake it until you make it. Even the most fortunate among us face times when bad tidings may be more than we can bear. There's something to be said for tilting toward optimism anyway, even when you have your doubts. In the enduring words of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, "Assume a virtue if you have it not."

Give to receive. There may be no more powerful way to feel thankful about your own blessings than to give freely to others. For an inspiring presentation on the power of giving, check out this 10-minute TED Talk, "How to buy happiness," by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton. (It's fun, I promise!)

Are you beginning to feel that Thanksgiving groove? Pass it on. You'll feel even better.

Happy Thanksgiving!