“It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy. Every moment is a gift. Whatever life gives to you, you will respond with joy. Joy is happiness that does not depend on what happens. It is the grateful response to the opportunity that life offers you at this moment.”
― David Steindl-Rast
Thanksgiving is that time of year when we show gratitude for family, friends, and lives well lived.
For a short period of time, we feel happiness-counting our blessings with an overall sense of contentment. Then, when Monday rolls around, it is business as usual. If we reaped any benefits from the holiday weekend, they quickly disappear with the return of stress, negativity, depression, and loneliness. Our lives focus on the materialistic, and our society seems to focus on what is lacking.
We are bombarded with negativity through the news and reminded often of what others have and what we, in turn, lack. Because of this, it seems that rather than appreciating all the gifts we have, we tend to focus on what is lacking or missing from our lives. This can have a negative impact on our health in many ways.
It turns out that changing the way we look at things and perceptions can be powerful in many ways.
Our perceptions form our beliefs, our thoughts, and ultimately our responses. So, good perceptions are beneficial to our outlook and our responses. One way to change perception is to practice gratitude. Gratitude is the act of focusing on what you have rather than what you lack. It turns out that practicing gratitude often can not only change your perspective for the better, but it can also pay off in health benefits.
We suspected thinking positively and practicing gratitude was good for us, but now multiple studies show this to be true. Dr. Robert Emmons of U.C. Davis and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami did a study on over 360 individuals. Half of the study participants had to write down something they were grateful for weekly for 10 weeks, while the other half had to write what irritated them each week.
At the end of the 10-week study period, the gratitude group not only felt happier, but they also reported 10% less pain, showed 25 % improvement in sleep, 35% reduction in depression, and were exercising 19% more than the group who complained.
Studies on the brains of those who practice gratitude regularly showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex. This is the portion of our brain that is important for planning and execution, as well as personality. There have been over 130 studies looking at gratitude and perception and their effects on health.
Most show positive results.
Life is hard, and things do not always go how we would like. Our world struggles in many ways, and tensions are higher than in years. Much of this comes from pointing out what is lacking and failing to appreciate what we have accomplished. We are bombarded with negative messages from the news and from those around us. This, in turn, changes our thoughts and beliefs into negative ones, and then we pass these to others.
It is the domino effect in real life.
Possibly, we can start the change with ourselves. Let us use this Thanksgiving holiday to start a daily practice of gratitude and aim to continue it for the next 365 days. We can do this by journaling daily about the people, places, and things we appreciate. Maybe we can write a letter to someone for which we feel gratitude. Even if we do not send it, composing it will help us reap the benefits. We can practice saying thank you at work, at home, and in our daily encounters. These simple acts can have a profound impact on our perceptions, and what we perceive can define our thoughts. What we practice grows. If practiced, gratitude will grow all that is good in your life.
Wishing you a holiday filled with blessings and gratitude. Thrive Physicians and Staff,
Mindful Thoughts on Gratitude-Our Thanksgiving Gift to You
(Be sure to share these with those for whom you feel thankful.)
“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
“This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before.”
“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
“Gratitude goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.”
“If the only prayer you said were thank you, that would be enough.”