Health and Healing Through Gratitude

We’re entering my favorite time of the year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas is all about time with family and friends, as well as reflection about all the blessings in our lives.  If we could only bottle those feelings of love and gratitude, now there would be a wonder-drug worth prescribing!

And when I say a wonder-drug, I mean it!  It turns out feelings of gratitude can actually have a positive impact on our health.  While it may seem opposite from what we’ve been taught about how to get healthier, the connection between gratitude and healing actually goes back a long way.

Philosophers as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans cited gratitude as an indispensable human virtue, and now scientists are studying how it develops and the effects it can have.  They’re confirming what I’ve actually seen in the office and my own life; gratitude practiced daily will strengthen your immune system and help you approach life with greater optimism.

What? No pill? No strict diet or exercise regimen? Can a positive emotion such as gratitude really guarantee better health?

Recent scientific literature has begun to illustrate that positive feelings, like love, joy and gratitude, do have a positive effect on our health and ability to heal.  These strong, positive feelings do so by enhancing the immune system which then enables the body to resist disease and recover more quickly from illness and injury.  Not only does our immune system get stronger, but these positive feelings also release endorphins into our blood stream.  These are our body’s natural pain killers, which also help to dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow to healing tissues and organ systems, and reduce stress on the body and heart.

It’s also important to note that negative emotions, like fear, despair, anger, worry and hopelessness, cause stress.  It’s no secret that prolonged stress makes us sick. It’s linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, and claims responsibility for up to 90% of all doctor visits. Gratitude, it turns out, can help us better manage stress.

Negative emotions also reduce the number and slow down the movement of disease fighting white blood cells in our blood stream.  This can contribute to the development of stroke or cardiac disease by releasing high amounts of adrenaline into the blood stream.  This adrenaline raises blood pressure and constricts blood flow to working and healing tissues and organs.

It’s clear to see why positive emotions better serve a healthy lifestyle.  All in all, when we live in gratitude or experience thankful thoughts, we are facilitating and tapping into our healing capabilities and de-stressing our bodies so that they can heal. This contributes to optimal levels of health and longer healthier lives.  Yes, feeling grateful will make us feel and be better!

Gratitude and optimism are skills that can be learned, just like learning to catch a ball, or ride a bike.  It boils down to practice, practice, practice!   If we focus on thinking wonderful, positive, healthy, happy thoughts we can’t help but cultivate an attitude of hopefulness and gratitude.  Here are my top 5 tips for generating feelings of gratitude in your life.

1. Research shows that simply focusing each day on things for which you can be grateful will increase your health and happiness.  Everyone has something to be grateful for…Just being alive for one; having a job, or enough money for lunch, or a roof over your head are all things to be appreciated.  Keep a gratitude journal and document at least five things daily for which you are grateful.  You’ll be amazed at how your attitude and happiness change in a matter of days.  And, when facing difficult times, I can’t tell you how much my gratitude journal has been a comfort to me!  Reviewing past entries helps me remember there are blessings to be found around every corner, even in the darkest times.

2. Two obstacles to being grateful are forgetfulness and lack of awareness. You can counter them by giving yourself visual cues that trigger thoughts of gratitude. Put Post-It notes listing your blessings on the refrigerator, the mirrors and the steering wheel of your car. Set a timer, computer or PDA to signal you at random times during the day and use the signal to pause and count your blessings. I’ve also heard of people having a special object or memento they use as a reminder…a gratitude rock, anyone?

3. We all carry on an inner dialogue with ourselves that is often called “self-talk.”  When this inner conversation is negative, our mood is usually low.  Research has shown that we can change our mood by changing the tone of the things we say to ourselves.  Change your negative self-talk using positive affirmations.  In fact, we’re making a free Affirmation Kit Download available to followers of our Facebook page!  Just “like” our page and click on the “Free Health Tips” button below our page’s cover image.

4. For an even stronger dose of health and happiness, express your gratitude to someone else. Holding the thought of gratitude for a good friend will benefit you — expressing that gratitude to the friend will benefit both of you.  Make a phone call, send a note, shoot off a quick email or heck, post a public sentiment of gratitude to a special person on your Facebook page!

5. And while it may seem like giving would be the opposite of thankfulness; you can actually boost your feelings of gratitude through giving.  Giving to others helps you appreciate all the blessings in your own life and also diverts your attention away from the daily stress and challenges you may be experiencing.  Suddenly your troubles will seem much smaller and insignificant when your focus is on those less fortunate.

Just remember, for the greatest benefit you must take gratitude beyond the Thanksgiving table. To experience every health benefit, gratitude must become a daily and regular practice.  And with that, let me tell you how grateful I am for this forum to share my health and wellness message.  I’m also extremely grateful for you; without my readers, these posts would just be random words floating around in cyberspace.

Thank You!

Dr. Tiffany

 

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