Good medicine: gratitude

December 22, 2008|By Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden | Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden,McClatchy-Tribune

Research suggests that the regular cultivation of gratitude and appreciation has multiple psychological and physical benefits.

Thankful people typically boast better overall health, fewer physical symptoms, higher income, more energy, larger social networks and stronger marriages. They also exercise more.

They fall asleep more easily at night. They sleep longer and more soundly, and they wake up more refreshed.

The practice of gratitude may increase the levels of immunoglobulin A in your throat and nose, increasing your ability to resist viral infections.

Gratitude practices seem to reduce stress hormone levels in the body.

People who cultivate gratitude, optimism and happiness live longer than grumpy pessimists.

Even curmudgeons can become beacons of optimism. Research has shown that only about 50 percent of our mood is determined by our genetics. The rest is largely determined by what we choose to focus on and cultivate. This focus takes commitment and practice.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology researcher at the University of California-Davis and one of the leading gratitude researchers in the country, suggests a number of practices that, if done faithfully, will have you grateful in no time:

* Keep a daily gratitude journal in which you make note of all the good things and the gifts that have come your way that day.

* Promise yourself to practice gratitude regularly.

* Focus on the good things that others have done for you. This makes us realize how interdependent we are and makes us realize that we are loved.

* Learn to develop a language of gratitude rather than a language of complaint. Ask your friends and family to help you. It's often hard to see for ourselves how much we're complaining.

* Use your senses to come into the present and appreciate the small gifts in the moment - the smile of a child, the smell of your first cup of coffee in the morning, the beauty of a sunset.

* Take grateful actions. Smile, perform random acts of kindness, help a stranger.

We suspect that if most people engaged in these practices on a regular basis, the world would be a much happier and healthier place. And people might need doctors like us a lot less frequently, and that's good medicine.

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