For Your Health: Adopting an Attitude of Gratitude

Many of my personal Insights—positive affirmations that distill my philosophy for Modern Wellness—deal with gratitude. For example:

“Gratitude creates happiness.”

“Without gratitude there is no happiness.”

“When our expectations are extremely high, gratitude is lost.”

“Have gratitude for today’s portion as it is.”

“Have gratitude for today’s simple pleasures even in challenging times.”

The reason for focusing on gratitude is simple: our mental state lays the foundation for our physical state. And unless we’re dealing with clinical depression or PTSD, our mental state is also the easiest to change.

When we’re anxious and worried, when we see the cup as “half-empty” instead of half-full, our bodies respond in an effort to move us to a state of well-being. They release stress hormones, increase our heart rate and blood pressure, divert blood flow from our digestive system to our arms and legs so that we’re ready to take action, and execute other systemic changes that, over time, take a toll on our health.

Conversely, when we’re happy, we can relax; our blood pressure and heart rate can normalize; we sleep better; our immune systems get a boost; indeed, all of our systems can resume their normal tasks. Moreover, when we’re happy, our outlook brightens. We feel optimistic about setting goals and achieving them. We’re more outgoing, reaping the benefits of positive social interaction.

Research has shown that an attitude of gratitude—expressing thanks for the good in your life—is one of the quickest routes to greater happiness.

Gratitude is a practice of appreciating what we have instead of always seeking the next new thing, gadget, relationship, experience, or thrill. Instead of constantly telling ourselves, “When I get that (job, raise, promotion, car, partner, nose job, out of debt, or) whatever I’ll be happy,” gratitude refocuses our attention on what is right, instead of what is wrong, with our lives.

Research shows that thinking about what we appreciate activates the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system, which can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel good.

One of my practices for increasing gratitude is summarized in another Insight: “See challenges as opportunities.” For example, when my first infomercial was a costly mistake, looking at the “failure” as an opportunity enabled me to learn from the mistakes I made and try again. My second infomercial was a huge success—and set me up for future successful infomercials.

Even if one aspect of your life has no apparent upside, life itself still has many upsides. A friend of mine who was diagnosed five years ago with an incurable form of blood and bone cancer told me that, in addition to the many treatments and procedures he must submit to in order to stay alive, he also has all the regular aggravations of life—from car break-downs to relationship misunderstandings. “And you know what?” he told me. “Those aggravations are a joy. They’re part of being alive, and I’m grateful to be alive.”

This is the time of year when we collectively give thanks for health, food, family and friends, and other blessings in our lives. Don’t have plans to be with friends or family this year? That, too, can be an opportunity to refocus on what you do have: the freedom to spend the day as you choose; the opportunity to be of service to others—by volunteering in a soup kitchen, or delivering meals to shut-ins, for example; or even freedom from the pressure to overeat!

As I’ve noted many times in this blog, my own research has shown that simply focusing on one of these 11 positive affirmation cards daily increased study participants’ health metrics. Here are some other ways to develop “an attitude of gratitude”:

Count your blessings. Research shows that even thinking about gratitude can make you more grateful.

Tell someone. When you express your gratitude and appreciation to someone in your life, you not only make them feel good, you increase your own happiness as well. (In one study, participants who wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, reported a huge and immediate increase in happiness scores—greater than that from any other intervention.)

Journal about the blessings in your life, either past or present. One study had a group of participants write the story of their lives focusing on the hardships and injustices, while another group recounted the story of their lives focusing on the triumphs and blessings. Guess which group emerged from the study happier?

Pray or meditate about the things you’re grateful for in your life—the people you love, the warmth of the sun, your health, your pets, the beauty in your life, the food you will eat.

Read something positive. Don’t restrict your information to the often troubling news of the day. Take a few minutes morning and night to read something inspirational—a poem, an affirmation or inspirational saying, or the story of someone who overcame tremendous odds, or demonstrated exceptional love or courage. These are important reminders that life is good and that we all have much to be grateful for.

Receive the appreciation of others—including me. In addition to my family and friends, I am so grateful for the patients, customers, employees, and others I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting over the last 80 years. Thank you for being part of that circle and for choosing #ModernWellness for your life.


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