gratitude… it’s good for our health

So this week I was challenged in the area of gratitude. I was challenged to be intentional in practicing it. Let’s face it. Grateful people are not grumpy people. And it’s no fun being grumpy.

Take not my word for it. Take Harvard’s…

Twelve years ago, three postdoctoral fellows who were concerned about the anxiety and depression that heart disease can set off designed the Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program at Harvard Medical School.

As reported earlier this year in the Harvard Gazette:

“Patients set for discharge attend an in-person training session and receive a manual with eight to 16 weeks of daily exercises. These exercises include writing letters of gratitude, performing acts of kindness, and reflecting on past successes. Participants also receive a weekly phone call from one of the program’s five trainers, who reviews the previous week, reinforces the positive message, and encourages exercise and other goals.

‘I try to emphasize gratitude: Think of three positive events during the week, small or large,’ said Carol Mastromauro, a social worker and trainer who has been with the program from the start. ‘I ask people to practice that if they’re sitting in a traffic jam. In a way, it’s kind of homework. Give yourself a breather, take a mini-vacation.’

The three studies conducted by the program so far have highlighted its ability to improve patient outlooks, Huffman said. Three more now underway are testing the link between a positive mental attitude and health.

‘What we’ve learned so far — small but important steps — is that if we ask patients to learn how to identify the good things in their life — write a letter of gratitude, imagine a better future, do acts of kindness — people with heart disease and other chronic illnesses are willing to sign up for the studies, willing to do the interventions and feel better when they do, with increased happiness, decreased anxiety, decreased depression,’ Huffman said. ‘We feel pretty confident about that.’”

Note the effects of a grateful life… identifying the good things… intentionally thanking and focusing on others… A grateful life may even actually help us live longer.

And yet, expressing gratitude for what we already have seems so countercultural to a society that is always pushing us for something “more”…

… more money…
… more success…
… more power…
… more offense…
… more influence…

But what would it change if we looked at what we had as enough?

What would it change — not that we need to stop striving, seeking, and finding — but what would it change if our focus was less on our stuff and less on our self but more thankful for what’s in our life and for others?

Isn’t that the reality?

Grumpiness is often self-focused.

I mean no disrespect, friends. I mean, I can be grumpy with the best of them.

But more often than not, when I am grumpy, it’s usually because of something I don’t like or I’m frustrated with or I’m mad about or choose to show no grace or patience or empathy for. Grumpy is thus often based on “me.” When I’m grumpy, I’m not generous with my gratitude… my grace either.

Today — aware of the holiday season ahead of us — why don’t we intentionally choose gratitude?

Sounds like it’d be good for our health.


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