What if I told you I have the secret to improving your health and that it doesn’t involve a pill or strict diet or exercise regimen? What if the key to living a healthier life was as simple as giving thanks?
It’s a common tradition on the Thanksgiving holiday for family and friends to gather around the dinner table and share what they’re most thankful for. With Thanksgiving approaching, November is a good time to recall the health benefits of gratitude and how we can maintain that state of mind all year long.
According to a Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.” It involves acknowledging the goodness in your life and allows you to think outside of yourself and better connect with others.
When researching the psychological effects, the correlation between gratitude and greater overall happiness is consistently seen. Gratitude offers a pathway to helping people feel more positive emotions and appreciate good experiences, while also improving health, ability to cope with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Psychologists have done extensive research on gratitude and its relationship to mental and physical well-being. The study Counting Blessings Versus Burdens asked one group of participants to write a few sentences each week on things they were grateful for. The second group wrote about daily annoyances or things that irritated them and the third group wrote about events that had no effect on them with no positive or negative emphasis. After 10 weeks, participants who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor than those who focused on negative sources of aggravation.
Here are some simple ways that you can cultivate gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal.
Once a week, write down all the things you’re grateful for. They don’t have to be big things, just small moments throughout the week that make you smile, like a good cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset or funny joke. This will remind you of all the things we sometimes take for granted and encourage you to appreciate those more mundane moments as sources of joy.
- Write a thank you note.
Take some time out to thank someone. Not only will it brighten someone else’s day, but it can make you happier and strengthen your relationship with them. By writing a simple note to thank someone for their impact on your life you’ll be recalling positive memories that may have helped shape and inspire you.
- Give back.
Giving back can take on many forms. It can be volunteering for your local charity, making a donation to an organization that supports a cause you believe in, or it can be something as simple a random act of kindness for a complete stranger.
Mindful meditation requires focusing on the present without passing judgement. Focus on the things your grateful for to achieve feelings of calm and peace.
According to Denise Driscoll, RNC, CARN, CS, NPP, Assistant Vice President of Behavioral Health at Mather Hospital, “with the mounting stressors of the day to day, it is all too easy to forget what is good about life. Taking a moment to be grateful grounds us in what is truly important. For me this is simply being with the ones I love.” Regardless of your current level of gratitude, it is a quality that you can successfully cultivate all year long and not just at the holidays. Appreciate and focus on what you have, instead of what you lack and reap the health benefits that come with an improved mental outlook.