By Valerie Minard
While Thanksgiving Day comes once a year to remind us to be thankful for all the good in our lives, the practice of daily gratitude also improves our health! As you make travel plans, clean house, and food shop for Thanksgiving Day, give yourself a treat by taking a mental gratitude break.
Religious and meditative philosophies have long recognized how gratitude is indispensable to health and wellbeing. But medical science is just now catching up. Much of the research has been done by two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. They found that gratitude strengthens immune systems and lowers blood pressure. It also increases happiness, generosity, and empathy while decreasing loneliness.
But are the health effects of gratitude simply positive thinking or mind over matter? Perhaps it goes much deeper. Gratitude is like pouring pure, sparkling water into a cup with dirty water. The more you pour in, the more dirty water is displaced. Likewise, gratitude displaces negative thoughts of fear and stress with an increased awareness of the power and presence of goodness. I think this strengthens our link to the divine; and that brings healing.
I saw this connection, many years ago, when I was a camp counselor at a sleep-away camp. A few days before campers were to arrive, I had a major asthma attack. I thought I had outgrown it, but my mother always warned me, given the right conditions, it could return. Lying incapacitated in the infirmary, I feared I might have to go home and leave the job. My mother, who also had asthma, had tried every medical remedy without success, struggling along day-to-day. I didn’t want a lifetime of fear and dependency on medications.
So I decided to try a different approach. Prayer had helped me with other ailments. So I felt encouraged to phone my Sunday school teacher back home and asked her to pray with me. What she said, totally surprised me. She told me to be grateful. At first, I couldn’t see how that related to my problem. But she explained that gratitude was a form of prayer. When we are grateful, we are recognizing God’s goodness and presence in our life. A consciousness filled with good, has no room for fear or sickness.
Health researcher and Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more.”
So I started out being grateful for the clean sheets on my bed, for the food tray being delivered, for all the care and concern shown me. You get the idea. I began to improve and feel stronger. Two or three days later, I was totally free; and have been so for several decades.
Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. But that’s exactly the time gratitude is so needed. If you find it difficult, here are a few tips to get you started…
• Record your blessings: write three to five things that were good in your day in a journal. Or, if you want to go public in a tweet or on Facebook.
• Say thank you often. You might be surprised with the response you get.
• Write thank you notes. Let other people know you appreciate them.
• Don’t compare yourself to others. Nothing robs us faster of gratitude than that. Be grateful for the good you see in others because it means good exists.
• Acknowledge the good in yourself! That’s important. The Bible tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
• Include gratitude in your prayer or meditation.
• Look for occasions to engage in random acts of kindness. This is the “giving” part of Thanksgiving.
As you make gratitude a daily habit don’t be surprised if your days start to brighten. You don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving Day to get started. Begin right now, and experience the health benefits of a gratitude attitude!