thanksgiving stock

Local leaders offer thoughts on gratitude


By Beth Lawrence

They pop up every November as Thanksgiving approaches – the 30 days of Thanksgiving social media posts where people write about what they’re grateful for.

Thanksgiving month is a wonderful reminder to be thankful, but how do we put gratitude into practice the other 335 days of the year?

A few local leaders shared the ways they practice Thanksgiving year-round.

Commissioner Gayle Woody lives gratefully by practicing faith and expressing appreciation for others.

“I exercise gratitude year-round by thanking people who serve our community in many different ways,” she said. “I also thank God daily for his faithfulness in my life, and the family he has blessed me with.”

Woody puts gratitude into practice by volunteering with United Christian Ministries, sending cards to those who help the community and telling people she appreciates them.

“I am grateful for the kind, generous people who live in Jackson County,” she said. “As a volunteer at United Christian Ministries, I am blessed to see the many individuals and churches that donate money and food to share with folks in our community.”

Sometimes, despite our best efforts we can forget to be thankful. Woody has a way to regroup when that happens.

“If I find myself feeling discouraged by the negative or fearful discourse around me, I focus on those who give so much to others in our community,” she said. “It readjusts my thinking.”

Sylva town board member Ben Guiney is appreciative he can “live and work in a beautiful place like Sylva,” and if he forgets to practice gratitude, a walk or bike ride through town provides a reset.

Newly-elected town board member Natalie Newman is thankful for health in a time of sickness.

“This year I am grateful to be healthy and well; with everything still going on in the world I am extremely thankful that I had the opportunity to get both vaccinated and boosted,” she said. “As we move into the holiday season, I am grateful to have work, a roof over my head, and a healthy family. I pray for healing in our community, our country and this world because so many go without the basics every single day.”

She looks around her and practices generosity when she needs a gratitude boost.

“I try to remember how blessed I am year round. When I need a reminder, I look to my community and to those that do so much in it,” she said. “Because I believe in trying to achieve balance, I give back where I can to those who need more. We all have something to be thankful for, and we all have something to give. We can start with kindness.”


More good folks than bad folks

Animal rescuer Pat Thomas works in a field that experiences a lot of compassion fatigue because rescuers are bombarded with sometimes the worst of humanity.

“I do my best to focus on the people and situations I am grateful for, because I do experience a lot of negative things in the work that we do through animal welfare,” Thomas said. “I truly want to believe that the good people in our world outweigh the bad. Whenever there is an animal in need, there will also be a human being that will help in some way.”

She is grateful for a community that supports her work with Advocates for Animals WNC and for living in an area that makes it easy to maintain her health with outdoor activities and the peace being in nature brings. If her gratitude begins to wane, she looks to her work.

“I reflect on all the animals and people that we have helped, and if not for our interventions, they would have had a much different and likely sad outcome,” Thomas said.


Grateful for family

Major Shannon Queen of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is grateful to have a caring family. 

He uses a sometimes taken for granted mentality to live Thanksgiving year round – it’s the little things – doing little things for others like holding a door helps him put gratitude into practice.

He admits to forgetting to be thankful.

“Overall, I try to remember how thankful I should be to live in such a beautiful place as Jackson County,” Queen said. “I sometimes forget to just look around at the beauty that God has created and the splendor that is all year round.”


Gratitude good for health

Why practice gratitude year-round?

There are scientific studies that suggest improved mental health, better interpersonal relationships and better physical health in people who make a habit of thankfulness.

The study “Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood” conducted by the psychology departments of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Zurich found that practicing a lifestyle of gratitude improved health outcomes.

“Our findings suggest that grateful individuals experience better physical health, in part, because of their greater psychological health, propensity for healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns,” the study’s authors wrote. “Interestingly, two of these mediators (psychological health and healthy activities) provided better explanations for the gratitude-to-health link later in adulthood than for young adults. In other words, the ways by which gratitude influences physical health differ across the lifespan.”