Recognizing the power of gratitude for Health and Happiness - Tucson Local Media: Aging Well

Recognizing the power of gratitude for Health and Happiness

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Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 4:00 am

November is often a month of reflection. As the year winds down, Americans collectively take a moment to remind ourselves about the many things for which we are grateful.  In addition to celebrating the freedoms preserved for us by our nation’s veterans, we also celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. But, as you give thanks, did you also know that expressing gratitude is also a way to stay healthy and happy?

Mindfulness and gratitude are two simple ways to help achieve a more balanced life, and psychologists recommend gratitude as a way to reinforce optimism and a positive outlook. So, before you get caught up in the demands that the season may impose, experts say it may be worthwhile to slow down and take some time to simply appreciate and give thanks for the many things you already have in your life. In fact, it could keep you healthy!

Numerous studies have found that practicing gratitude on a daily basis has a positive impact on all areas of our life. Emotional response, personality, health, careers and our relationships are also enhanced by gratitude practices.  These practices not only create positive effects in these individual areas, but also to an individual’s overall feeling of happiness. In fact, there are medical and physiological benefits that practicing gratitude can also provide.

A study conducted Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and the University of California at Davis showed that when people incorporate gratitude into their life on a daily basis, it increased alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy levels.  Additionally, these people experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to volunteer, exercised more regularly, and made more strides towards achieving personal goals. Other studies have shown that even modest acts of gratitude can alleviate anxiety, significantly decrease systolic blood pressure and hostility, and increase the quality and duration of sleep, while decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

Like many good things, an attitude of gratitude can take time to develop. The wisdom and experience that come with age make older adults even more capable of reaping the benefits which gratitude can provide; but sometimes it’s not as easy as it might seem. There are several reasons why older adults may shy away from expressing gratitude. They may be nervous or uncomfortable, or they may assume people already know how they feel.  Though actions and words over a lifetime do say a lot, there could still be much left unsaid. Sending a simple letter or card, making a phone call or having an in-person conversation can open many hearts, including your own.

As author and World War II Veteran Rober Moskin says, “One of life’s gifts is that each of us, no matter how tired and downtrodden, finds reasons for thankfulness; for the crops carried in from the fields and the grapes from the vineyard.”

Having the ability to express gratitude opens an individual’s world to a multitude of possibilities, and nurtures their bodies in ways exercise cannot.  With a few simple steps we are all able to reap the positive effects of saying thank you on a daily basis. Above all, it’s important to emphasize that there is no time limit for being grateful.  Whether it’s giving thanks for something someone did yesterday or 70 years ago -- expressing gratitude is always important, and appreciated.

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