I’ll guess that most of you have heard of the old song “Accentuate the Positive.” First published and performed in 1944, the message is as relevant today as it was then. Staying positive is linked with gratitude, and so as we approach Thanksgiving, I want to talk about the notion that being grateful is actually good for your health. Being grateful has been linked to reduced stress, improved physical health and better psychological health.
According to University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons in an article on Webmd.com: “’Grateful people—those who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind—have an edge on the not-so-grateful when it comes to health…’ It’s no secret that stress can make us sick, particularly when we can’t cope with it. It’s linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, and claims responsibility for up to 90 percent of all doctor visits. Gratitude, it turns out, can help us better manage stress. ‘Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,’ Emmons says.”
If you think of your stress on a scale from one to ten, what is your average daily stress level? Is your stress affecting your health? Would you like to change that by developing a gratitude practice?
So, let’s do an experiment. Choose a time when you have two to three minutes to close your eyes, sit quietly, and let your mind roam to a time in your life when you were completely happy. Let yourself feel this happiness and absence of negative feelings. Enjoy this feeling for a few minutes then think about what you are most grateful for in your life now.
Now select a regular interval to revisit this feeling of joy and gratitude. It could be a “conscious coffee/tea break” in which—rather than refilling an actual mug—you take a couple of minutes to refill and revisit this feeling of joy. Or, create another one. The objective is to build a routine to rid your body of negative chemicals that build up from stress and to release positive ones. The more often you get rid of the negative, the better. Our goal is to create a habit of gratitude.
Since it takes approximately twenty-one days to build a habit, are you willing to continue this practice for the next twenty-one days? If you are in the U.S. and reading this post around our Thanksgiving holiday, twenty-one days will take you through much of December— one of the most stressful months of the year for many of us.
At a minimum, try the gratitude practice when you wake in the morning and when you go to bed at night. This way, you will start and end your day on a positive note. Listen to the song—it’s simple and you might even use it as a prompt to remind of the good things in your life. Whistle it when you’re feeling stressed to put everything in perspective.
Most of us have many reasons for gratitude even during our most challenging days. By building this routine you will strengthen your ability to navigate the challenging days.
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photo credit: www.flickr.com AForestFrolic