Signs of gratitude are all around us. Photo: Chris Bjorklund (2017)

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, gratitude is “a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation.” And to quote a North Bay fire survivor, “Gratitude is a big word in my vocabulary right now.”

“Words are powerless to express my gratitude.”

As I looked deeper into the roots and meaning of this word, I found that psychologists have added a social element to the definition. According to UC Davis Professor Robert Emmons, “Gratitude has been conceptualized as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill and an attitude. It is all of these and more. Minimally, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act.”

“I’ll forever be grateful.”

In the aftermath of the Northern California wildfires, as so many are struggling to recover and rebuild, we see signs of gratitude for altruistic acts all around us. Thank-you signs for the first responders and the countless volunteers and local businesses who provided basics such as food, shelter, and clothing are posted along highways and in towns. Neighbors are embracing, helping and housing others who’ve been displaced. Many relief funds have been set up and are accepting cash donations.

“A heartfelt thank you for all you’ve done.”

But the work is just beginning. Our families, friends and communities will be suffering for a long time, so they’ll need ongoing help. We can best express our gratitude to the first responders by continuing our assistance toward rebuilding into this holiday season and beyond. Taking action is how we can help make our communities, and indeed our world, a better place to live.

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