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cultivate gratitude

When I learned about the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last week, I, like millions of others around the country, had a very visceral reaction to the news.

gratitude and health

The wind was knocked out of me, I felt sick to my stomach, and quite literally, I felt my heart break with sadness and horror.

And like thousands upon thousands of parents, I could not get to my daughter’s school quickly enough,  scoop her up into my arms and breathe in thanksgiving for another moment with her.  In the week since, I have spent hours reflecting on how grateful I am to have more time with the ones I love.

The truth is that we have no idea what the future holds.  All we have is this moment and we should realize the value in it.  Make it count.

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, and as the holidays quickly approach, I encourage you all to cultivate the habit of gratitude.  It’s good for your health and for your spirit.

Gratitude fosters optimism, which has been shown to positively influence the immune system. Optimism and other positive emotions are associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol and with reduced risk of chronic disease including heart disease and high blood pressure.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who kept weekly gratitude journals exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the coming week compared to those who recorded challenges or neutral life events. These same researchers reported that while people who cultivate gratitude don’t deny or ignore the negative aspects of life, they tend to report positive emotions, greater life satisfaction, increased vitality  and lower levels of depression and stress compared to those who do not cultivate gratitude.

Start a gratitude journal – write down what you are grateful for in your life on a weekly or daily basis.  We all can find reasons to be grateful: the love of family and friends, a roof over our heads, the beauty and bounty of nature, the companionship of our pets and, of course, our health.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and meaningful holiday. – Dr. Alex