Several months ago I participated in a thirty-day gratitude challenge posted on FaceBook by a close friend. Not the most original of ideas, true, since numerous sites have posed similar challenges over the past few years but it did get me to think more seriously and systematically about gratitude. It wasn’t simply the word but the concept and the reality. Each morning for an entire month, those of us who agreed to sign on met the challenge’s directive: “write about something for which you’re grateful today but that’s different from the gratitude you wrote about yesterday.”

Gratitude — and what exactly is that? Within the context of our complex, high stress, western life-styles, too many Americans take for granted the most obvious, albeit intangible, gifts in our lives. Yes, it very well may be cliché to say, “I’m grateful for living in a free country,” or “I’m thankful for my health,” especially when, during our conscious hours, we’re bombarded with messages that prioritize material acquisitions.

During my one-month gratitude challenge, writing about a different gratitude every day became progressively more challenging. And that was a total surprise to me. One morning, mid-challenge, I suddenly really got it! I grasped how much we regard our freedom is a basic human right, an entitlement, a simple function of being alive.