Gratitude Reduces Stress
By Laura Paradis, LICSW
It is no secret that stress has a negative impact on health, but research is finding that an “attitude of gratitude” can be a successful antidote to external stressors. As Emmons’ research points out:
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, according to Emmons’ research on gratitude. “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations.”
Cultivating an attitude of thankfulness has also been linked to: better immune function, better ability to relax, and even decreased rates of disease.
The Paradox of Gratitude
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “if only I had _____ I’d be happy, “or “if only I didn’t have to deal with ___ I’d be happy, or “If only I could get at my goal weight I’d be happy but this is a vicious cycle.
Gratitude and happiness are the first step, not the end result. Making the choice to be happy and have gratitude is not only healthy, but it can improve our performance and ability as well.
Remember: I may not be where I want to be but I am where I am at and I can adopt an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude to keep me going.
Why is Negativity So Easy?
It sounds so simple to just be grateful, but it turns out that there are biological reasons this process doesn’t come so easily.
Sure, by all measures, if you are reading this on a computer, your living conditions are better than those in a large majority of the world. You probably got to eat today, likely even food you chose and enjoyed, and you probably have adequate clothing. We probably have friends, and a social support system, and family members we can talk to regularly.
Yet, it is easy to dwell on the financial problems, or the one negative comment from someone or the one thing we wish we could fix about our bodies or the one slip we had in our weight loss program.
This makes sense from a biological standpoint, but makes gratitude difficult. We are wired to pay attention to pay attention to things that could be potentially negative or harmful as a survival instinct, but in a world of constant input from the internet and social media, this instinct can backfire.
Making Gratitude a Habit
Thankfully, cultivating a grateful attitude is possible, and it can be one of the easiest things you do for your health! As Bruce Campbell PhD in his article: Counting Your Blessings: How Gratitude Improves Your Health, suggests, a few simple changes can help make gratitude a habit:
- A Daily List– One thing I do daily is to make a list of a few things that I am especially grateful for that particular day. Also, it is good to make a list of things that you have done well as part of your weight loss program. Whether little things like; I did exercise, I ate protein at every meal, I drank water, I got good night’s sleep etc., my garden or the dishwasher to big things like my children and wonderful husband, I’ve found that this does help to keep the focus on the many blessings in my life. When done first thing in the morning, this sets the tone for the day and helps me stay positive and cheerful.
- Gratitude Letters- Once in a while, I try to write letters to friends and family members thanking them for their influence in my life and detailing the reasons I am grateful for them.
- Acts of Kindness– Doing a small, un-noticed, good deed each day can help boost the natural tendency to be grateful and look for the good in any situation.
As Martha Washington said:
“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”
So, if you are grateful for anything; write it down and keep adding to it each and every day and don’t forget to keep yourself and your own good actions in mind.