Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Giving thanks is healthy — mentally and physically
At age 92, my Aunt Clara is computer-savvy and writes emails to friends and family frequently. She always signs off with the line, “In gratitude, love and joy, Clara.”
Thanksgiving is approaching, and we will all soon be taking time to acknowledge what we are grateful for.
It’s a nice gesture, but Aunt Clara practices gratitude year-round. Every morning she recites a short poem that she wrote about gratitude. She feels there are health benefits to practicing her gratitude exercise.
Clara is a big proponent of Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at the University of California at Davis. I wasn’t convinced that there was scientific evidence proving gratitude exercises were really beneficial until I Googled “Robert Emmons.”
For more than a decade Dr. Emmons has been studying the effects of gratitude on physical health, on psychological well-being, and on our relationships with others. He has studied more than 1,000 people from ages 8 to 80 and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness
• More helpful, generous and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated
Dr. Emmons feels that gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We are grateful for the gifts and benefits we’ve received. It doesn’t mean the world is perfect, and there aren’t hassles, pain, and burdens in our life. It just means we affirm the good things in the world. And as we look around, there is so very much to be grateful for every day, sometimes we just take it for granted.
To quantify the good things, Emmons recommends keeping a gratitude journal. Count your blessings, and write them down, if you will. List five things for which you’re grateful every week. I think it would be a good practice to post this list on the refrigerator.
Let’s all start writing a gratitude list this week, continuing it year round, and begin to reap the health benefits. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Signing off in the spirit of Aunt Clara: In gratitude, love, and joy, Alice.
Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.backushospital.org/backus-blogs or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at firstname.lastname@example.org.