An Attitude of Gratitude Keeps You Healthy

Thanksgiving is a good reminder to take stock of the overlooked blessings in our lives. Family, friends, employment, education, health, and a warm, dry home are sometimes taken for granted in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Such a positive outlook is more than good for the soul, it’s been shown to have beneficial results on the body as well. As we roll towards the holiday season, join Dr. Chani Henderson and her staff at Family & Sports Chiropractic Clinic in practicing an attitude of gratitude.

Practicing mindful gratitude is good fro your health.

Gratitude is a tricky thing to study. People are thankful for VERY different things often depending on background, upbringing, and personal taste. (Chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, anyone?) Researching it over the years—and in a wide variety of settings—has shown fascinating results with sometimes unexpected findings.

A recent Harvard study focused on two groups of willing volunteers. Half were assigned to journal daily about something they were thankful for, the others told to document daily irritations. At the end of the study “those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”

Work from the University of California Berkeley echoes those results. “After 15 years of research, we know that gratitude is a key to psychological well-being. Gratitude can make people happier, improve their relationships, and potentially even counteract depression and suicidal thoughts…there’s good reason to suspect that gratitude has positive ramifications for your body.”

While it’s admittedly difficult to test a concept which can mean different things to different people, Berkeley’s work still shows that “Gratitude’s stress-buffering ability and known power to increase happiness and positive emotions may have downstream positive influences on health. And gratitude’s role in fostering and strengthening social connections may be just as important. A growing body of research strongly suggests that our relationships with others can have tangible health benefits.”

A doctor at the University of Southern California also organized a study “of how gratitude manifests in the brain. He found links between gratitude and brain structures also tied to social bonding, reward and stress relief. Other studies have bolstered his findings, revealing connections between the tendency to feel grateful and a chemical called oxytocin that promotes social ties. Research on gratitude has also found associations with other health benefits, including general well-being, better sleep, more generosity, and less depression.”

A handmade christmas ornament given to Dr. Henderson as a gift of gratitude.
A gift given to Dr. Henderson by a patient’s daughter.

During the socially distanced days of COVID-19, family gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s may not be possible. But there are small, everyday ways to begin to improve your outlook and insights. It may take time to find which works best for you but—as with physical exercise—dedication and frequent repetition will keep you on track.

Dr. Fox from USC says that “some of the most effective approaches include maintaining a gratitude journal, writing personal thank-you notes, and regularly expressing gratitude to others in person.” Berkeley authors add to this list counting your blessings, prayer or meditation, and thanking people mentally to practice gratitude and “appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier…Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”

Training ourselves to be more thankful is almost like learning a new language. At first it requires careful thought and frequent practice but soon responses become instinctual. And you don’t have to be re-active in your thanks, look for ways to be pro-actively thankful. Hold a door open for someone, compliment a neighbor’s holiday decorations, or buy a latte for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop. Think of gratitude like taking vitamins, flossing, or getting the oil changed in your car. Little preparations done in advance can often keep major problems at bay.

Speaking of which…if your body could use movement or balance help, reach out to Dr. Henderson. Whether dealing with surgical or accident recovery, sports injury, or ongoing pain issues, she and her team are always happy to help. They’ll sit down for a one-on-one consult and talk through your medical history, physical limitations, and goals for the future. Don’t miss out on the holidays, let them get you back on your feet again today. Give the office a call at 360-254-0400 or book a consultation online.