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Gratitude: the way to tranquility and better health?

26 April, 2009

I have been thinking about gratitude recently. One of the consequences of the current climate of recession seems to be a sense of us looking inward, holding ourselves tight, minimising our dreams and locking away our potential. People are reporting to me that office politics appear to be changing. Micro-managing, taking the credit, a sense of ‘me, me, me’ is flourishing. The way in which the recession is being discussed in the media encourages us to feel frightened and when we feel fearful our world shrinks. We baton down those hatches!

But is this the way in which we want to live our lives? I’m not suggesting we can all afford to be splurging financially but we do have a choice about the attitudes and values that we choose to live our life by. Cultivating gratitude may be a positive move forward.

The Rainbow Years, by Barrie Hopson and Mike Scally is primarily a resource book for the over 50’s, focusing on seven different aspects to life – work, finance, relationships, learning, heath and wellbeing, leisure and spirituality. I have read it recently and think it’s a fine book for people of any age. It’s a ‘can do’ book and is packed full of exercises to encourage the reader to explore aspects of their lives and tune into what changes they can make to fulfil themselves. If you’re over 50 or planning your retirement it is particularly recommended. See their website fiftyforward.co.uk.

One of the themes that runs through The Rainbow Years is the concept of gratitude. Apparently a sense of gratitude is good for our health. Grateful people take better care of themselves. Optimists have better immune systems. People who focus on the positive things in life and whom are grateful, feel better about life, are more optimistic, are more successful in achieving their aims, are more helpful to others and have fewer physical symptoms (R. Emmons and M. McCullough, The psychology of gratitude, Oxford University Press, 2002). Who wouldn’t want a friend like this? Wouldn’t it be better to feel like this? Hopson and Scally feature a gratitude checklist and ask ‘What do you feel grateful for today?’ Have you expressed that gratitude? Who have you thanked today’?

The website Zen Habits ask this:

Why should the simple act of thinking about who and what I’m grateful for make such a big difference in my life?

Just a few reasons:

  • Because it reminds you of the positive things in your life. It makes you happy about the people in your life; whether they’re loved ones or just a stranger you met who was kind to you in some ways.
  • Because it turns bad things into good things. Having problems at work? Be grateful you have work. Be grateful you have challenges, and that life isn’t boring. Be grateful that you can learn from these challenges. Be thankful they make you a stronger person.
  • Because it reminds you of what’s important. It’s hard to complain about the little things when you give thanks that your children are alive and healthy. It’s hard to get stressed out over paying bills when you are grateful there is a roof over your head.
  • Because it reminds you to thank others. I’ll talk about this more below, but the simple act of saying “thank you” to someone can make a big difference in that person’s life. Calling them, emailing them, stopping by to say thank you … just taking that minute out of your life to tell them why you are grateful toward them is important to them. People like being appreciated for who they are and what they do. It costs you little, but makes someone else happy. And making someone else happy will make you happy.

So what have you to feel grateful for today?

These people doing ‘the gratitude dance’ made me smile

The BBC has recently reported on the huge health benefits of being positive in our outlook. View the report.

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