My Q Health | Pass the Gratitude: Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving
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Pass the Gratitude: Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving

Pass the Gratitude: Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving

Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D.

Nestled in the midst of the holiday season, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite celebrations of the year — a day focused entirely on drawing our loved ones close to us and taking time to reflect on all the reasons we have to be grateful.

While the flashier holidays, with their gift exchanges, extravagant décor and many television specials, may get more attention and a bigger build-up — anyone else start spotting Christmas ads before Halloween? — Thanksgiving is a holiday whose spirit I would welcome year round. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude doesn’t just make you a nicer person with more peace of mind, it’s good for your health.

While tryptophan is commonly associated with Thanksgiving — and the oft-debunked myth that it’s the reason why Turkey Day dinner causes drowsiness — let us turn our attention to a set of different body chemicals: dopamine, serotonin and the other feel-good chemicals like endorphins our brains release when we’re feeling joy — or gratitude.

At the University of California, Davis, the study of gratitude and its effect on our well-being is ongoing. The project’s co-investigators, Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough (from the University of Miami), make a good point: Scientists are late to the gratitude party. Gratitude long has been embraced by religions and philosophy as an indispensable component to health and well-being. Science is catching up, finding that gratitude is associated with reported better physical health, more happiness and increased optimism. Studies have also found it’s associated with greater alertness, enthusiasm and goal-attainment. One study, examining adults with neuromuscular disease, found that after 21 days of gratitude exercises, participants reported feeling more energetic, a greater sense of connection with others and better duration and quality of sleep compared to a control group.

How can we inject more appreciation into our daily lives?

Write it down. Emmons and McCullough’s work repeatedly points to daily or weekly gratitude journals as important tools to increased health and happiness. Those who wrote once a week about what they were thankful for exercised more, reported fewer physical problems and felt better about their lives compared to those who kept records of hassles or neutral events. An added bonus was the thankful diarists also were more likely to have made progress toward academic, personal and health-based goals over a two-month period.

Once a week is enough. A study that compared people who kept journals three times a week versus weekly found the weekly group was happier over time. Record your feelings of appreciation as often as feels right to you.

Say thank you.

To read full article, go to the Huffington Post.

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