Being grateful is the foundation for living a healthy life. You can live in a great country, have access to the best medical care, adopt the healthiest lifestyles, but … without gratitude, your health will never be at its best.
In the preamble of its Constitution, the World Health Organization states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Gratitude is fundamental to your well-being and happiness. When you are grateful, you recognize and value others and acknowledge that other people and events contribute to the positive aspects in your life. It’s about feeling genuinely thankful and appreciative. It’s about wanting to give kindness back. It’s about being humbly synchronized with others.
It is not always easy to be grateful. We are social animals but we are not hardwired to being grateful. Our busy lives can prevent us from being grateful or our social circles can discourage us from cultivating it. In good times, we may think of things that make us feel grateful. In North America, for instance, families gather around the dinner table and give thanks for the year’s harvest through Thanksgiving. However, when we experience tough situations, gratitude is not always easy to cultivate. And that’s when we need it the most.
It’s hard to be grateful when we experience loss and pain. It’s hard to be grateful when we feel sad or frustrated. However, during difficult moments, being able to dig deep inside ourselves and recognize the things that make us grateful is a sound way in which to cope.
From a preventive perspective, we should practice gratitute consistently, in both good and bad times. We also need to encourage others around us to cultivate gratitude.
Emmons and Mcullough, experts in gratitude research, encourage us to count our blessings instead of our burdens. The health benefits that come with gratitude are real and they are life-altering. Being grateful can increase personal happiness by 25% and prevent the onset of stress-induced illness and chronic disease.
Gratitude protects us from stress and depression. It strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure. It helps people navigate through tough challenges and be more resilient. People who practice gratitude sleep better at night and they are more productive and energetic during the day. They experience more joy and optimisism. They have stronger social support, are less lonely or isolated. In general, they have a lesser need for wanting more and they focus on things that truly matter.
Cultivating gratefulness is a powerful exercise that brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives. Here is a simple exercise that you can do: Write down five things for which you are grateful. Then, put the note somewhere so that you see it when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Reflect on these things (or people).
These things can be big or small. This morning, I gave thanks for my family’s good health and for living in a country (Switzerland) that makes a great cup of coffee! (The coffee here is really amazing!). What matters is that you maintain the ritual. For more information, check out Emmon’s tips on becoming more grateful here.