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Gratitude and your health

The holidays often compel us to be thankful for our lives and appreciate those we hold most dear. But did you know that embracing an attitude of gratitude can actually be beneficial to your health?

Dennis Buttimer, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, explains.

Gratitude and your health

Being grateful has an uplifting, dilating effect on the body. It’s the opposite of being in a state of constriction.

“When we are grateful, the physiology relaxes,” says Buttimer. “It would be similar to playing a game of tug of war. You’re trying to pull a person across, but when you let go, you feel a release of tension.”

A thankful attitude can also increase certain “feel-good” neurochemicals in the body.

“If you do something kind for someone or find yourself in a state of gratitude, you may have an immediate good feeling, which is produced by a chemical called oxytocin,” says Buttimer. “And as you practice this more, you begin to increase the serotonin levels in your brain, which has an antidepressant effect on the body. And you’re going to feel better.”

How to cultivate gratitude

Choosing to be grateful isn’t always easy. In fact, Buttimer says it takes practice.

“For some reason, our brains are wired to identify what’s wrong,” says Buttimer. “There are some studies that show that seven out of 10 thoughts in the morning are negative. So you really have to work on seeing what’s right around you and not what’s wrong.”

To cultivate a grateful spirit, Buttimer suggests trying the following:

  • Keep a gratitude journal.  Before bed, write down all of the things you are grateful for. It may help you sleep better and release all of the frustrations of the day.

  • Be mindful in the moment. If you are stuck in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, like a traffic jam or a boring meeting, try to relax and think of reasons you should be grateful in that moment. It could be focusing on how grateful you are to have a car, or how grateful you are to have a job.

  • Write down or say three things a day that make you grateful. Shawn Achor, one of the world’s leading experts in positive psychology, suggests trying to rewire your brain by writing down or stating three things that you are grateful for, every day for 21 days. You can write it in a journal, say it as a prayer, or say it out loud.

  • Come up with a list of 50 things you are grateful for in 10 minutes. To really shift your mood, Buttimer suggests coming up with a list of 50 things you are grateful for in 10 minutes. Try to adhere to the time restrictions. Although it may seem difficult at first, you may surprise yourself.

Check out more helpful, healthful tips from Living Better.

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