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Every year on Thanksgiving Day, people all across the country sit down to eat turkey and express gratitude with their loved ones. I love the reminder Thanksgiving brings to pause and reflect, and then express how much I have to be thankful for; not just for physical things, but also relationships, experiences, health, and other intangible gifts. Expressing gratitude directs our focus to the positive parts of our life, rather than the negative parts. There are many benefits to giving thanks all year long, not just at Thanksgiving.
A recent study from UC Berkeley found that grateful people often feel healthier, sleep better, and even have some physiological markers of better health. “Count blessings, not sheep,” says Emma Seppälä, a happiness researcher at Stanford and Yale Universities. Seppälä suggests that if you keep a gratitude journal or list, write it before bed. Focusing on positive thoughts before falling asleep may soothe the nervous system and promote more restful sleep. Gratitude also promotes self-control and contentment. Splurging on that must-have item, indulging in a dessert, receiving a compliment, and many other things bring small amounts of happiness in those moments. The problem is that these moments don’t necessarily sustain long term happiness. “Gratitude is something that leads to much more sustainable forms of happiness, because it’s not based in that immediate gratification; it’s a frame of mind,” Seppälä says. Making gratitude a regular habit may produce deeper happiness over time. Some studies also showed improved physical health in individuals who practiced regular gratitude.
This morning I asked my son what he was thankful for as he buckled up for our drive to school. He couldn’t think of a single thing but as we drove along I pointed out some children walking to school in the cold. We also passed a few homeless individuals, not uncommon in our evolving neighborhood, but today we made a point to notice them. We began expressing thanks for the things that we often take for granted. Gratitude reminds us to take our eyes off ourselves long enough to see the world for the beautiful place it is, and to find joy in the little things. Gratitude can be a powerful tool when we are willing to use it. Grateful people become happy people.
Application: Start a simple habit of gratitude journaling.
- Designate a space to write: buy a notebook, use post-it notes on a bulletin board, create a note in your phone, etc.
- Create a routine: journal at least once a week, find a setting that inspires you
- Focus on quality: don’t worry about quantity, start with a bullet point list, try to list 3 things
- Be intentional: tape a reminder to your bathroom mirror or set a reminder in your phone. If you are thankful for a person, tell them. If you feel grateful throughout the day, say it out loud. Cultivate a lifestyle of expressing gratitude, and you will notice that over time it will just become part of who you are.
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.