I’ve learned, through trial and error and a few tough heartbreaks, that you can find a silver lining in almost any situation.

Some circumstances have been more difficult than others, true, and these required the passage of time to reveal the good, but eventually I found that things were seldom as bad as they seemed.

Sometimes you really have to look hard, but it’s there.

Like many others, at Christmastime I make an extra effort to concentrate on gratitude, on the silver linings on the clouds in my life. I have friends who hold a more formal Christmas gathering that takes the practice of gratitude up a notch, where they all participate in the tradition of offering up out-loud appreciation for something they’re thankful for in the past year.

I expect most people give thanks for family, and for good health. Some might mention buying a home, or an unexpected job opportunity, or the birth of a child, all fortunes worth celebrating.

Unfortunately, most of us will forget that sense of gratitude as soon as we polish off the last piece of cheesecake. It’s human nature to return to the familiar, and let’s be honest here: thankfulness doesn’t come easily for most of us. We usually default to griping.

Maybe it’s just the people in my circle, who knows, but it seems like even the most good-natured among us have perfected the art of complaining, and I’m one of the biggest culprits. Sometimes I catch myself bellyaching about the most trivial matters, too.

We complain about the weather; the traffic; our jobs; our spouses; our parents; adult children who don’t come home often enough; and school-age ones who don’t listen. We complain about the yard that has brown patches, the roof that has sprung a leak, and the car that’s making noises we don’t like. Yet, we don’t notice the incredible good fortune that we have all this to complain about in the first place.

It’s difficult to remember when you’ve had a long day and paperwork is piled a foot high on your desk, that there are people struggling to find work and would kill for your job. When the sweater you ordered on-line turns out to be too big, it’s not easy to remember the people who are freezing and would give anything for that exact sweater you’re complaining about.

The older I get, the more I realize that we’re going about this gratitude thing all wrong. Devoting one season, really just a few select days, to what should be a year-round ritual, is hardly the way to go. Gratitude should be a daily practice, a lifestyle we choose much as we decide to eat salad when a burger is easier or make ourselves go jogging.

We need to make it a habit to find the small pleasures woven into our everyday schedules. By acknowledging the good, the pleasant, the it-could’ve-been-worse, we’re consciously choosing happiness. We’re changing our focus to things bigger and better than our own self-inflicted pettiness.

Thankfulness is actually good for us. Study after study has shown that expressing gratitude not only makes us happier, it also helps us with stress, heart health, sleep, depression, and work life satisfaction. Maybe that’s why you hear more people adopting the custom of writing in a gratitude journal.

Before you roll your eyes, stay with me for a second. This is not something I do, but I’ve heard it talked about for decades, with much success. Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities I’ve seen in interviews have told of beginning their mornings by writing down 10 things they’re grateful for. It helps them frame their days in a more positive manner.

I know how goody two-shoes that sounds, like some Hollywood trick from a Glamour magazine, designed for us to more gracefully accept the hard-to-accept. That’s not what I mean, though. Being grateful doesn’t mean you ignore problems or sidestep hard issues. Everyone will have things go wrong and writing a journal isn’t going to change that.

Gratitude is more of an in-spite-of feeling, a spark of light in an otherwise dark place. It’s the ability to see over and under and beyond problems. It’s making the conscious decision to be happy instead of dwelling on what’s bringing us down; and what better time to start that habit than at the time of year when we celebrate with our families.