It seems like only during Thanksgiving week, people around the United States express gratitude for the bounty in their lives. After all, the very name suggests the nature. But what if you could carry on this way throughout the year. What if a dose of thankfulness is just what you need to maintain your health and happiness? It’s funny that we are fine with a dose of vitamin D from sunlight, a dose of prescribed pills for an infection or anxiety. Yet the very thing that could prolong our health and longevity, we are quick to pass up.
There is scientific evidence to conclude when it comes to mood, outlook, and health. Happy people live up to 10 years longer than unhappy people, and optimists have a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimists. There is also incredible research that having an attitude of gratitude as a permanent state of mind holds innumerable health benefits. Studies have proven again and again that are thoughts are linked to every cell in our bodies. So basically, if your mind is not content on positive psychology, you will not be well. Simply put: What you think, you become. If you are riddled with maladies, your thought patterns are most likely negative.
So how can YOU become happier and more optimistic?
In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, she teaches us how 50% of our propensity for happiness is based on a genetic set point, something we can’t influence very much, 10% is based on life circumstances (such as getting the promotion, finding “The One,” or achieving a life-long dream), and 40% is “intentional activity” that we can influence with our behavior…and our thoughts.
That means we can be up to 40% happier in our lives without changing our circumstances one bit, and one of the key intentional activities is the practice of gratitude. Research shows that consistently grateful people are happier, more energetic, more hopeful, more helpful, more empathetic, more spiritual, more forgiving, and less materialistic. They’re also less likely to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, neurotic, or sick.
In one study, one group of participants were asked to name five things they’re grateful for every day, while another group was asked to list five hassles. Those expressing gratitude were not only happier and more optimistic, they reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headache, cough, nausea, or acne). Other gratitude studies have shown that those with chronic illnesses demonstrate clinical improvement when practicing regular gratitude. Even severely depressed people instructed to list grateful thoughts on a website daily were found to be significantly less depressed by the end of the study when compared to depressed people who weren’t asked to express gratitude. And we know that depression is a significant risk factor for disease.
How Does Gratitude Boost Happiness?
- Promotes savoring of positive life experiences
- Bolsters self-worth and self-esteem
- Helps people cope with stress and trauma
- Encourages caring acts and moral behavior
- Helps build social bonds, strengthen existing relationships, and nurture new relationships (and we know lonely people have twice the rate of heart disease as those with strong social connections)
- Inhibits harmful comparisons
- Diminishes or deters negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, and greed
- Thwarts hedonistic adaptation (the ability to adjust your set point to positive new circumstances so that we don’t appreciate the new circumstance and it has little affect on our overall health or happiness)
You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the benefits to your health and happiness that accompany gratitude. In fact, the more you repeat this thought pattern, the easier it becomes. The attitude of gratitude can happen 365 days a year. I am not saying your world will be rainbows and unicorns. I am saying, the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to find joy in the little things. Especially when life throws you the curve ball, look for a silver lining. Ways you can practice gratitude:
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
3. Vary your gratitude practice.
4. Express gratitude directly to others.
I cannot promise a cure for cancer based on an attitude of gratitude. But I can promise you that you can shift your perceptions and in turn, learn that it is not what you have that really matters. It is how you feel about what you have that truly matters. Take the challenge. Be thankful for 365 days and see what happens in your life. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks for reading! InJoy your day!