by Marcel Hernandez, N.D.
Now that we’re well past Thanksgiving, I’m thinking it might be a good idea not to let it recede in the rear-view mirro.
That’s because gratitude has real, demonstrable health benefits year-round.
The holidays evoke cozy images of warm, happy celebration. But, for too many, it’s a time of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and overwhelm.
Our personal history may determine our response to the holidays. In my immigrant Cuban family, the holidays were joyful, spiritual, and transformative.
We ate, laughed, exchanged gifts, and oo-ed and ah-ed at decorations in windows and homes. Gratitude was rampant at our social and church gatherings. It was magical.
Gratitude is appreciation for what we receive, whether our gifts are material or energetic. We acknowledge the goodness in our lives and recognize that the source of our sense of goodness is at least partially outside ourselves. Thus, feeling grateful helps us connect to something outside of our small, individual self, whether we it’s other people, nature, or a higher power.
Research shows the social, physical, and mental benefits of grateful feelings.
- Most important, gratitude replaces toxic thoughts and feelings. This is not insignificant! Consciously practicing gratitude – reminding ourselves of our gifts and filling our hearts with appreciative feelings – can lead to more fulfilling relationships, less depression, more engagement, and a better outlook.
- People who experience gratitude have fewer aches, pains, and doctor’s visits. They also report more feelings of physical and mental well-being.
- Gratitude improves our outlook. Appreciating what we have can make us feel more optimistic and satisfied, and less frustrated, envious, and regretful. Gratitude also promotes self-esteem and confidence.
- Gratitude enhances intimacy and fulfillment in relationships. Positive people are more attractive than negative people! A positive person is easier to get along with and talk to, even about difficult things.
Thankfulness for the important people in our life is likely to be reciprocated. Mutual appreciation leads to more satisfying relationships. When we’re less envious and less focused on the material things we don’t have, we invest more energy in what we do have and what’s in front of us.
- Grateful people have less depression and stress, lower blood pressure, and more energy. A daily practice of gratitude even slows some of the effects of neurodegeneration that occur with age.
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology and gratitude researcher at UC Davis, cites two guidelines for practicing gratitude:
- We affirm the good things we’ve received.
- We acknowledge the role that other people play in providing our lives with goodness.
How to go about it? Here are some ideas to get started:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that we’ll follow through. Write a gratitude vow – it can be as simple as “I vow to count my blessings every day.” Post the vow on a bathroom mirror where you’ll see it as you start the day.
- Upon waking, write in your gratitude journal three things for which you’re grateful. Do this for two weeks and you’ll likely notice a big difference in your overall mood and outlook.
- Just before bedtime, jot in your gratitude journal the things you feel grateful for that happened during the day. People who do this report better sleep, because gratitude diminishes anxiety and stressful feelings, allowing a more restful and relaxed transition to sleep.
- Express your gratitude with others. Voicing your appreciation makes it real and deepens connections.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the benefits take time – re-programming ourselves with healing attitudes of gratitude is a richly satisfying journey, not a far-off destination. The path to greater happiness is living mindfully and gratefully, one day at a time.
For information about the services we offer at Pacific Naturopathic, give us a call at 650-961-1660, use the convenient Contact Form to get in touch, or follow the link to: Consultations – Pacific Naturopathic. Thank you!