Thanksgiving: the day we celebrate amidst family, feasting and football to stop and give thanks. It is a great time to slow down and give voice to what we are thankful for, called the practice of gratitude. Practicing gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving; it’s a healthy practice all year long. Be sure to check out my gratitude game at the end of this post for Thanksgiving dinner, and read more to understand the powerful health benefits of gratitude.
American author Melody Beattie said “gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend”.
The Proven Health Benefits of Gratitude
Beyond Beattie’s inspiring wisdom, a growing body of scientific research confirms that gratitude is definitely good medicine with real health benefits such as:
- better brain function
- lower blood pressure
- healthier heart
- happier mood
- lower stress (from lower cortisol levels)
- better sleep
- stronger immune system
- reduced risk of depression and anxiety
- better energy
- blocking of toxic emotions
Gratitude for Brain Health
My friend, renowned Psychiatrist, brain health expert and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Daniel Amen says, gratitude stimulates changes in your brain that enhance its function, so you feel better and handle stress in a healthier way. Positive thoughts fend off depression and feelings of anxiety too. He encourages patients to write down five things each day they are grateful for as a positive health and gratitude practice.
Gratitude for Heart Health
Gratitude improves heart health, reports lead author professor Paul J. Mills, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego. His study, published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice®, reports patients using journaling to cultivate gratitude had improved heart rhythms and reduced levels of inflammation. Patients also had better moods, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health.” The study summation; “a more grateful heart may indeed be a more healthy heart”.
Gratitude for Good Sleep
Good sleep is critical for good health, and one study shows that gratitude improves both sleep quality and quantity. When you get ready for bed, instead of ruminating over negative or challenging events of the day, write down five things you are grateful for and fall asleep to more positive thoughts.
Start a Gratitude Journal
Treat yourself to a beautiful leather journal instead of using electronics so you’re not tempted to look at email or tomorrow’s crazy schedule (which will not help you sleep).
One way to get started is listing the letters A-Z and thinking of simple things you are grateful for. A for the air you breathe, B for a beautiful morning, C for coffee or clouds…you get it. Simple or profound, writing thoughts down makes them more real. On tough days, reading your gratitude journal lifts your sagging spirit. Need more ideas? Check out this article from Positive Psychology on ideas for gratitude journaling.
Gratitude Game for Thanksgiving
The A-Z list makes for great conversation and positive, healthy focus at the Thanksgiving dinner table too. Have one person start with A and go around the table. Or print up a page for family and guests to take home to get their practice started. You can also write the letters on pieces of paper, put them in a jar, and pass the jar around for people to pull a letter from then share what they are grateful for.
Historically, Thanksgiving began when the Colonists stopped to give thanks for a good harvest and survival in the New World. Being thankful and having an attitude of gratitude is one of the healthiest practices, not just then, but now, and all year long.