For the second time this year I have just returned from a three day “retreat” which involved a lot of exercise and “wellbeing” malarkey.
For the second time this year also, during one of the talks, the course leader presented us with her view on “Gratitude” which she maintains has helped her through periods of (deep) depression.
To be honest, I had not thought much about this concept until quite recently. It dawned on me on the back of what she said that there is a link between health and gratitude.
So, I had a bit of a think and decided that she had something in this idea because
- People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions and less anxiety, sleep better and have better heart health
- Your sense of gratitude can be strengthened with practice. Ways to cultivate gratitude include keeping a gratitude journal, prayer, meditation, writing thank you notes and non-verbal actions like smiling and hugging.
A cursory surf on the Internet about whether gratitude can influence your health found that according to a number of studies, the answer is almost certainly yes !!
“If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”
Americans have once-a-year gratitude ritual of Thanksgiving; the Brits have a Harvest Festival which is better than nothing.
However, if you’re serious about your wellbeing, it would be good to increase the frequency at which you feel and express gratitude to a daily basis. Because, people who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions less anxiety, sleep better and generally have better health.
In fact, gratitude can produce measurable effects on a number of systems in your body, including:
- Mood – Serotonin
- Inflammatory and immune systems
- Reproductive hormones (testosterone)
- Stress Levels (cortisol)
- Social bonding (oxytocin)
- Blood pressure and heart rhythm (adrenalin)
- Pleasure (dopamine)
- Blood sugar – stress (Cortisol again)
While there are as many reasons to be thankful as there are people in the world, one fact of life that many often forget to be thankful for (until it is too late) is their health.
We tend to take our health for granted until we’re suddenly in the throes of pain or chronic illness.
The old adage that it’s really the little things that matter most, and if you are grateful for the little things, it will bring a more deep-seated sense of happiness. After all, if you have good health and all your mental faculties intact, you also have the basics for doing something about unpleasant situations in your life.
I now think of a sense of gratitude as a muscle which can be strengthened with practice. One way that Sally (the instructor) harnessed the positive power of gratitude was to keep a gratitude journal where she wrote down what she was grateful for each day.
My internet research found that people who kept a gratitude journal reported exercising more, and had fewer visits to the doctor compared to those who focused on sources of aggravation.
I also read in a recent Huffington Post article that creating a nightly gratitude ritual can be a powerful strategy and I quote from that:
“My colleague has a bedtime routine with her [3-year-old] and it includes recognizing what you are grateful for. When this part of the night comes, you can’t shut him up,”
“There are so many things that we take for granted and when you listen to the long list that a child can come up with you realize the possibilities for gratefulness are limitless!
Take a couple minutes each day to stop and reflect; taking regular pause is an excellent way to bring about more feelings of gratefulness in your life.”
Avoiding getting sucked into bad news is the other side of this equation. You may have to limit your media exposure from time to time if you find it difficult to maintain a positive outlook in the face of terrible headlines.
Personally, I have, for some time now, absolutely avoided people who I call “Energy Vampires”. They just seem to drain the positive life force from you. So if you are an Energy Vampire, go suck the life force out of someone else !!
Some other ways of getting the gratitude habit would include;
- Write thank you notes: Whether in response to a gift or kind act, or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life. Getting into the habit of writing thank-you letters can help express gratitude in addition to simply feeling it inside.
- Smile: Smiles and hugs, both of which can express a wide array of messages, from encouragement and excitement to empathy and support.
- Thank You: It’s so easy to say please and thank you in passing, these courtesies are powerful when combined with eye contact and sincerity. Equally, when people are ignorant enough to not respond to you please or thank you, it is perfectly acceptable to show your feelings by giving them the finger or a sharp punch on the nose.
- Prayer and mindfulness: Expressing thanks during prayer or meditation is another tip. Practicing “mindfulness” means that you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now.
You can also focus on something that you’re grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze, or a good memory.
- Tap gratitude: The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is another helpful tool. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure based on the meridians used in acupuncture.
It’s an effective way to quickly restore your inner balance and healing and helps rid your mind of negative thoughts and emotions.
Last but not least, I’m grateful for YOU reading this blurb. If I were not passionate about improving health and wellbeing, there would be no point in any of this.
Sharing simple strategies that have a powerful effect on health is my passion. The fact that you are reading this fills me with gratitude.
It’s what makes this blog worthwhile.
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