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GUEST COLUMN

Which comes first, the gift or the gratitude?

Which comes first, the gift or the gratitude? Don't you just hate those sunshiny, cheery people? You know the kind, always focusing on the good stuff, and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the petty annoyances that plague the rest of us.

On some days I want to become one of the Pollyannas, and on other days I just want to hose them down with a heavy dose of ice-cold reality.

One of the more admirable and annoying traits I notice in all those silver-liners is that they're always so bleeping grateful.

"Thank you for the delicious synthetic milk product creamer for my coffee."

"Thank you for the beautiful rainbow."

"Thank you for taking out the trash (and allowing me to remind you 37 times so I could have this fabulous opportunity to practice my patience skills)."

Ugh, if the happy-clappys weren't so nice to be around, I'd avoid them altogether. But, heavy sigh, I'm reluctantly beginning to realize that being grateful is the secret to a happy life.

Author and gratitude guru Mike Robbins says, "There's a growing public consciousness around the idea that the more we focus on gratitude, the more there is for us to be grateful for."

In his new book, "Focus on the Good Stuff: the Power of Appreciation" (Jossey-Bass, $19.95), Robbins shares a story about how his then-girlfriend used simple gratitude to turn him into a fabulous boyfriend:

"We had been serious for a couple months, and she says to me, 'We have to have a talk.'

"I'm thinking oh, groan, this is not going to be good.

"So she sits me down and starts giving me a laundry list of, 'I like this, I like that, I don't like this, and so on.' At first I was a little offended, then it dawned on me, wow, she's giving me a cheat sheet for making her happy.

"She tells me that one of her 'likes' is to be given flowers, especially for no reason. Now I'm a guy so, for me, you give flowers for three reasons: a birthday, Valentine's Day or I did something stupid.

"But she says, 'No, I want you to give me flowers just because it's Tuesday or just because you love me.'

"A few days later, I see some flowers, so I decide I'll try it to see if it works. I show up at her apartment with the flowers and she goes bananas. She loves them. I feel like 'I'm THE MAN!'

"It goes so well, I decide to do it again. Same result. Bananas every time."

This is where the jaded, long-married woman in me rolls her eyes and says to him, "Well of course she was excited, you were still dating, you optimistic, delusional man."

However, Robbins (www.Mike-Robbins.com) sweetly points out (and his wife confirms) that, after seven years, a marriage, a mortgage and a baby, he still buys her flowers and she still goes bananas.

Their story illustrates what happens when someone decides to be grateful. Her joyous reaction prompted him to continue the behavior. Clever girl. Whereas most of us would have felt like the flowers didn't count if we asked for them, she jumped up and down every time, and got more flowers.

Robbins' book reveals the secret of bringing more gratitude into your life. And he does it, thankfully, without resorting to the simpering sentiment, sappy prose or dithering diatribe usually associated with this topic.

He suggests that you've got to learn to be grateful before you can enjoy anything.

"You want to be rich, you want to be thin and you want to be loved so you can feel good. But you could get all those things and, if you don't know how to appreciate them, they're meaningless," he writes. "We can change the entire experience of our life simply by being grateful."

So, here goes. Thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for taking out the trash and thank you Mr. Gratitude.

And if my husband brings me home bananas tonight, I promise I'll be grateful.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear."

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