By Leafing through the twenty-odd "Welcome to Wellness" columns I've penned over the years, I was surprised to discover that I have yet to discuss one of my favorite health-promoting habits-gratitude. With Thanksgiving just past away, this is the time.
You probably say "thank you" fairly often-to family, coworkers, store clerks, service professionals. This is the polite thing to do and it's how we show our appreciation for the actions and words of others. But how often do you contemplate all the good that graces your days-big gifts and little one? Feeling deep down grateful has so many plusses, it might be easier to list the aspects of your life it doesn't positively affect! Except that I can't think of any off hand.
Would you like less stress, more optimism, deeper relationships, improved sleep and a heightened sense of meaning in your life? How about being more generous and empathic toward others, getting over illness more quickly and being a better goal-setter while simultaneously being happier with your life situation right now? (You might guess that the effects of gratitude have been very well studied, and I thank all those wonderful psych eggheads for doing it!) Yes, you can have all these things, but you have to do the gratitude work. Thankfully, this is less taxing than 45 minutes on the treadmill. In fact, contemporary philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville says that "gratitude is the most pleasant of virtues and the most virtuous of pleasures."
Here are some techniques that may help: Robert Emmons, PhD., of the University of California at Davis, recommends keeping a gratitude journal. Really savoring all the good things that came your way at the end of the day, and writing them down, can grease the tracks that lead all those delightful effects into your life. Plus, you actually get compounding interest: In his book "Thanks!," Emmons assures us, "Focusing on gratitude leads to having more to be grateful about." I have yet to put thanks to paper in the evening but I do make mental note of what made it a great day: my family and friends, fulfilling work, the sunshine, a smile, nourishing food. I'm reminded of the movie "White Christmas" (soon to appear on a T.V. screen near you) when Bing Crosby croons, "When I'm worried and I can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep." Try this, it really works. Although turning down the worry chatter can be a challenge, most of us will find that if we allow a parade of all that is good in our lives to march through our consciousness, the long list will fade into slumber before you know it. And then maybe you'll dream about the Love Boat instead of the Titanic. No doubt drifting off to sleep with a smile will put you on the path toward a good morning.