Gleaner 2006 Spelling Bee champion Rosanna Pike flashes a smile after receiving funds towards her school fees from former parliamentarian O.T. Williams last September. Research suggests that gratefulness gives some persons an edge in health matters. - File
Health and happiness are two of the universal goals of all people. Many philosophers, spiritual teachers, the world's major religions, including Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have prized gratitude as a spiritually beneficial emotional state. Now doctors and psychologists have joined in the chorus.
Medical research indicates that there is something you can do each day to be healthier and happier, and it will cost you nothing and take very little time. Be grateful. Dr Michael McCollough, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Dr Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, say their scientific study indicates that gratitude plays a significant role in a person's sense of well-being.
Benefits of Gratitude
A Healthier Lifestyle
Grateful people: Those who embrace gratitude as a permanent trait rather than an occasional state of mind have an edge on the not-so-grateful when it comes to health. According to Emmons' research on gratitude, "Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviours like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations." It seems that gratitude encourages more self-appreciation, more self-esteem and thus more self-care.
Stress can make us sick, particularly when we can't cope with it in a healthy way. It's linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, and claims responsibility for up to 90 per cent of all doctor visits. Gratitude, it turns out, can help us manage stress better. "Gratitude research suggests that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress," the researchers say.
Grateful people tend to be more optimistic, a characteristic that the boosts the immune system. Dr Lisa Aspinwall, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, reported on some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function. In one, researchers compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress. They found that students who were optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained higher numbers of healthy blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates.
Optimism also has a positive health impact on people with compromised health. In separate studies, patients diagnosed with AIDS, as well as those preparing to undergo surgery, had better health outcomes when they maintained attitudes of optimism.
Clinical psychologist Blair Justice, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the UT School of Public Health at Houston, states, "A growing body of research supports the notion that rediscovering a sense of abundance by thinking about those people and things we love lowers the risks of coronary events."
Practise: Start each day by simply focusing on three to five things for which you can be grateful. This will increase your health and happiness. Everyone has something to be grateful for. Just being alive is a big one. Being able to breathe, or having enough money for lunch, or a roof over your head are all things we can be grateful that we have, but we often take these for granted.
Express your gratitude to someone else for an even stronger dose of health and happiness. Holding the thought of gratitude and expressing that gratitude to the friend will benefit both of you.
Record your gratitude. Some people have found even greater rewards from practising gratitude when they make a daily list of things they are grateful for in a 'gratitude journal'. This practice is made even more powerful when they find time to reread their gratitude lists.
Share your gratitude. Gratitude becomes infectious. Look for ways to share your blessings. It can express itself in simple ways like with a smile, a blessing, a prayer, a note or phone call. Just do it.
Thank you for reading this; I'm so grateful that you did.
Email Dr Anthony Vendryes at email@example.com, log on to www.anounceofprevention.org, or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on Power 106FM on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.