In contemporary times, we can look at researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley—in collaboration with the University of California, Davis— who a number of years ago launched a multi-million dollar, three-year project, called “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude.” We can also look at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Universities of Michigan, Utah, Illinois and Kentucky, in particular, who have demonstrated that people who are deeply thankful, who count their blessings, who notice the simple joys of daily life, and who acknowledge everything they have in positive ways, engage in healthier behaviors and generally take better care of themselves. This includes exercising regularly, eating wisely, and visiting their physicians for regular physical examinations.
Gratitude. It’s the new medicine–yes, along with mindfulness and exercise — with only positive side effects. It promises stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, improved sleep, more joy and optimism, less smoking and alcohol abuse, less stress, and, get this — patients confronting AIDS, as well as those preparing to undergo surgery, have better health outcomes when they maintain attitudes of optimism and gratitude.
People who are grateful see the world filled with abundance and victory, train their view on what can go right – not wrong -in life, see hassles not horrors, and view life as always offering rich possibilities. Ungrateful people are burdened with a perspective that keeps them looking at what’s missing, what can go wrong, and are filled with a feeling of deprivation.
Gratitude is not a feeling. It’s a choice. Whatever label you choose to wear, you’ll become. Do you wear the label “jealous,” “resentful,” “bitter,” or do you wear the label “thankful,” “appreciative,” “admiring”?
The word gratitude, from the Latin word gratia meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness, is thankfulness, an appreciation for whatever you receive, seeing the goodness in everything. Grateful people understand that nothing ever happens TO them, but rather that everything—everything—happens FOR them. They know that when one door closes, adopting a grateful attitude is very valuable in being prepared for the next door that will open. They understand that failure isn’t a setback, it’s not a definition of who they are, but a preparation for their future success – a setup for whenever that will come. Grateful folks know that whatever they are experiencing is preparing them for what they hope for. Gratitude allows seeing difficulties through a lens of success—preventing stress.
In his 2007 book, “Thanks: How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” http://www.amazon.com/Thanks-Science-Gratitude-Make-Happier/dp/0618620192 Robert Emmons reported on his well-known study that found that people who keep a daily journal listing five things they feel grateful for each day, are 25% happier than those who don’t. He also described this group as feeling “…more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, attentive, energetic, excited, determined, and strong…” than those who focus on the hassles of daily life. The gratitude group also reported fewer physical symptoms and exercised more, which of course are related. The benefits of focusing, daily, on gratitude extends to three pillars of wellbeing: emotional, mental and physical areas of life. In his newest book, “Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity” http://www.amazon.com/Gratitude-Works-Creating-Emotional-Prosperity/dp/1118131290 Emmons noted, “Gratitude is good medicine.”
Follow these 4 simple and enjoyable steps and you’ll fill up with appreciativeness, gratefulness and thankfulness—and enjoy all of the health benefits this new form of medicine provides.
1. Watch your own self-chatter. It’s the king of gratitude building. It takes minduflness and awareness. Are you focusing on what’s good in your daily life or are you sticking yourself up on what’s wrong? Do you focus on the wrong turn you made or do you focus on the right one you finally made? Do you focus on the thorns on your rose bush or the roses on your thorn bush? Do you see your child, boss, spouse as cranky and unbearable or simply tired and needing some rest?
2. The queen of this medicine is keeping a gratitude journal. You do this by simply answering this question morning and night: What can go right today and what went right today? Find five things morning and night and you have taken a full dose of gratitude.
3. When’s the last time you wrote a thank you note? When’s the last time you went out of your way to say thank you to another person and stop to really think about what they did for you? This puts a fence up to protect you from envy and jealousy.
4. Meditate to promote forgiveness and appreciating others, thereby freeing you from negativity. What that other person did TO you will somehow turn to your advantage.
Can you think? Be grateful for the good you can contemplate. Can you see? Be grateful for the beauty that you can see. Can you hear? Be grateful for the soothing sounds of life that you can hear. Get it?
What would an article from me be without a handy, memorable acronym to help you focus on gratitude?
Good – what’s good about your daily life regardless of what you have or not?
Recognize – what can go right?
Appreciative – are you appreciative of what you have…and don’t have?
Thankful – who have you sincerely thanked today?
Emotional – can you express emotion in a positive manner?
Fulfilled – you are either fulfilled or on the way to being fulfilled…never unfulfilled
Understanding – do you have the lens to understand that whatever happens always happens for the good?
Liked – do you look for what you can like in every person and situation you come across?
There you have it…no pharmacy, no gym, no gurus, no robes or incense. Simply changing your mindset, filling yourself up with a thank you, promotes your health. Gratitude is indeed medicine.