Thankfulness and a Healthier You

Having a thankful attitude can bring on better health and happiness
Having a thankful attitude can bring on better health and happiness

A Harris Poll conducted in 2013 reported that only one in three (33%) Americans consider themselves happy, which is slightly down from the 35% who were very happy in both 2008 and 2009. Other results show that women are overall happier than men (36% vs. 31% respectively).These are very disheartening statistics. Thankfully, studies show that feelings of thankfulness not only encourage enjoyment of life, but they also influence our health and well-being. Thankfulness is defined as a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. Who could imagine that something so simple and easy could help improve various areas of one’s health and wellness? Some of us have embraced an “attitude of gratitude” as a daily ritual, while others traditionally reserve giving thanks only during the Thanksgiving holiday. If we only knew the benefits of being thankful for not only what we’ve received, but what we’re expecting to receive. According to Joel Osteen, senior pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, thanking God in advance strengthens your faith, keeps you encouraged and moving forward, and gives you the strength you need to wait for God’s promises.

There are two helpful tools you can integrate into your daily life to practice giving thanks: positive thinking and gratitude journaling. First, when we experience tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one or we encounter negative situations including a bad health report, loss of a job, financial hardship or failed relationship, it is very easy to get discouraged, sink into despair, and let negative thoughts run rapid. But, why not adopt the mindset of transforming those negatives into positives? Positive thinking is a skill that requires training and one you will need to develop over time. While it won’t make the situation go away, it will put you in a better position to improve the situation.

Second, we’ve heard our parents say, “Be thankful for what you have and stop focusing on what you don’t have.” Journal what you are thankful for every day. Choose your journal, be consistent, write at least three to five things, and be specific. According to the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and University of California, Davis professor of psychology, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., it really is about forcing ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life we’d otherwise take for granted.

What do we receive in return? According to Emmons, gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. There are a whole host of benefits that we can experience, ranging from physical and psychological to social. These include improved sleep patterns, fewer symptoms of sickness, longevity, more exercise, increased energy, increased pro-social behaviors (such as helping others), increased immune system, increased self-esteem in athletes, less stress and overcoming trauma.