How giving gratitude impacts your health

Mental Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Nov 23, 2017

Every year at Thanksgiving, my parents encourage us to go around the table and list something we are each thankful for. We are a pretty big family so this can go on for quite a while, but it’s something I look forward to each year.

Mind you, I never quite get it right. I always get a little flustered; either feeling like I’ve said too much or as soon as it moves on to the next person, I think of about a million additional things I should have listed — because really, at the end of the day, I am thankful for so very much in my life. This is a family tradition I have always enjoyed, but I’ve never given it much thought until recently.

As a medical professional, it’s an interesting thought — the idea of being thankful.

When you break this practice down, giving gratitude, it turns out that taking the time to give thanks each day can have meaningful and lasting positive effects on both our mental and physical health.

To put it simply, recent studies indicate that people who take the time to practice gratitude, think about or better yet, write down those things in life they are thankful for, show actual health benefits. These can vary from reduced rates of depression, improvement in cardiac function, decreased levels of stress and inflammatory markers, and an overall improved perception of happiness.

These studies may be new to Western medicine but they have been celebrated by countless religions and cultures — many of whom have encouraged the act of celebrating gratitude for centuries.

Taking time to be thankful

Personally, when I take time out of my day to stop focusing on what might be or what I wish could be, and actually focus on those things that actually are and that bring me happiness, I just feel a little better.

It’s not a difficult thing to do. In fact, it only takes a few moments, and studies indicate that if you do it on a regular basis, you are probably better for it. As a physician, I believe it is important for my patients to practice different forms of gratitude, but I know I must also practice it myself. So here it goes…

Things that I feel gratitude for at the moment:

  1. My health, which isn’t perfect (Austin seasonal allergies!) but keeps me feeling pretty dang good and enables me to do the things that matter to me on a daily basis.
  2. My family, my parents, husband, sisters, brothers, nieces, aunts, uncles and cousins, who are amazing and fascinating humans and love all my quirks (or at least convincingly pretend to).
  3. My husband, who is currently cooking me dinner while I type this after a long day of work.
  4. My many, amazing, wonderful friends.
  5. My dog Willie, who is a dashing, distinguished 14-year-old gentleman puppy.
  6. My profession, which enables me to meet inspiring and fascinating people on a daily basis, and feel needed in this world.
  7. My coworkers, who are, plainly put, awesome, and truly care about the patients we serve.
  8. Coffee…because it’s coffee.
  9. These super soft socks I am wearing. I love socks.
  10. Brownies, chocolate chip cookies and Rocky Road ice cream (Ok a few vices).
  11.  Yoga. This is another practice with proven health benefits and which celebrates gratitude.
  12.  The ability to binge watch TV when my brain is done for the day.

Obviously, I could go on and on, but honestly, I’m already feeling better.

This Thanksgiving, I know I’ll have a lot to list off to my family as we go around the table. But true gratitude is about more than just being thankful on a certain day — it’s an attitude of appreciation for the things in your life, big or small, that bring you joy.

We all have bad days, but when we take the time to pause and remember how much we’re blessed, those bad days don’t seem as bad. Sometimes, giving thanks for the little things can have a big impact.

Now, you give it a try and see how much better you feel!

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