With the approach of the holiday season, I feel the irresistible tug of memory. More and more as I get older, this time of year is bittersweet, bringing back seasons past and dear ones lost. I love the memories of Christmases when I was a child and a young adult, when the holiday was all about anticipation — looking forward, rather than back.

But the memories inevitably carry sadness as well, reminding me of those who are with me no longer and the sense of comfort and belonging that I will never retrieve from my youth.

One practice I want to begin this Advent, which I hope will become a tradition, is consciously looking for and acknowledging what I'm grateful for. There is no one so rich, I believe, as the person who is full of gratitude.

Lately, gratitude has become rather trendy, with 30-day challenges on Facebook and lists everywhere of things one is (or should be?) grateful for. All this seems a bit contrived to me, as if one could manufacture a spiritual life in three easy steps.

I hope for a gratitude that is genuinely felt, whose expression bubbles up and flows out of me like sweet water from a spring. When it comes over me, this feeling always includes a large measure of humility and — paradoxically — joy. The feeling when someone you love deeply says she'll marry you, when you receive a kindness that goes way beyond your expectations, when, just for a moment, the universe seems to say an unqualified "Yes!" to you.

It is not a small thing to be grateful — and I am — for food, clothing and shelter; for a job that uses your skills and allows you to feel useful; for friends and family, including pets; for somewhere besides work to contribute to the greater good, even in a small way; for a society where the rule of law is still the norm, and neighborhoods that are safe enough to take safety for granted.

And then there is the opportunity to grow intellectually and spiritually; the beauty of nature in every season; the simple breath that keeps us alive. And there is love, for all those who have gone before, and those who are with us now, and even those to come. Love, which desires others' ultimate good, which we enact in small and large ways every day, is that which enlarges our humanity so that, finally, if we are lucky, no one is left out.

And we can really be grateful for every single thing. OK, so that's aiming pretty high — but why not?

I hope you have a joyous, and grateful, holiday season.