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November 24, 2015

Thankful Grateful and Healthy

Thanksgiving is a day set aside as a holiday to give thanks for what we have. Traditionally it has been celebrated in the fall to give thanks and show appreciation for the harvest. Thankfulness or gratefulness is a healthy emotion. Much of how we feel or how we perceive our sense of well-being is linked to our emotions. People who practice gratefulness on a regular basis tend to be healthier.

Thanksgiving is a day set aside as a holiday to give thanks for what we have. Traditionally it has been celebrated in the fall to give thanks and show appreciation for the harvest. Thankfulness or gratefulness is a healthy emotion. Much of how we feel or how we perceive our sense of well-being is linked to our emotions. People who practice gratefulness on a regular basis tend to be healthier.

There is a saying that goes: “In our daily lives we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

I have seen people who seem to have poor physical health but are happy because they do not dwell on the negatives. Instead they can appreciate the positive things in their life. People who take time to count their blessings experience benefits especially in their mental healthiness. Another saying is: “The way to get what you want is to be happy with what you have.”

People who are grateful on a regular basis tend to be more optimistic and optimism is linked to happiness. It has been reported that a grateful attitude can boost the immune system, help relieve stress, improve outcomes in surgery, and improve sleep. Also it has been reported that optimists have a lower risk of heart disease and that happy people live longer.

Thankfulness and gratitude can be expressed inwardly through prayer or meditation. It can also be expressed outwardly to parents, teachers, coworkers, nurses, policemen, or soldiers to name a few. Gratitude can be expressed through words or written in cards. Children who learn to express gratitude at an early age and learn not to take things for granted tend to be better students and have more friends. There are reported benefits to those who give thanks and to those who receive thanks. Expressions of thankfulness to employees have been associated with improved productivity.

Studies have been done asking people to write down 3-5 things they are thankful for every day. Another group was asked to write down 3-5 hassles they experienced daily.  Another group wrote down 3-5 things that happened to them without specifying if they were positive or negative things. The group that recorded things they were thankful for was happier and felt better. Interestingly this group that focused on gratitude was reported to have less depression, less visits to the doctor, and exercised more. Many people find satisfaction and happiness in counting their blessings.

Do we have the ability to be more optimistic and happier? Studies suggest that happiness and optimism is influenced about 50% by our genetic makeup (which we cannot change), only about 10% by our circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activity. So this suggests that happiness is to a certain degree a choice.  An “attitude of gratitude” can be a conscious choice that can improve happiness and health. Another saying goes: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Happiness, optimism, and health do seem to be improved by a grateful attitude. As we take time to show gratitude and appreciation on this Thanksgiving holiday, consider how gratefulness can be part of your daily routine in your quest to stay healthy my friends.

By: P. Michael Shattuck, MD – Community Health Network Family Physician

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