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‘Attitude of gratitude’ can boost health, happiness

Submitted by Carol Tomlinson, RN BS, community health educator for HealthLink Littauer

December 15, 2012
The Leader Herald

This is the time of year that asks us to count our blessings and to help those less fortunate. However, it is also a season that frequently brings high stress with all of the accompanying physical ailments such as headaches, fatigue, colds or even heart attacks. Those with chronic illnesses may even find their condition deteriorating under the pressures of the holidays.

There is hope for us to become happier and healthier simply by learning to have an "attitude of gratitude." Gratitude is not about "looking on the bright side" or denying reality. Gratitude goes much deeper than that, according to recent research in the emerging field of positive psychology. It's about learning from a situation, taking the good to help deal with life's challenges.

According to research at the Harvard School of Medicine, there is a very real connection between gratitude and good health. An estimated 90 percent of all doctor's visits are for stress-related ailments. Evidence suggests that today's biggest health challenges are heart disease, cancer and diabetes - all conditions that have been liked to chronic stress.

Thankfully, stress is not so much a result of what is going on in our lives as it is about how we perceive those things. The good thing is that we have some control over how we look at life's challenges. Robert Emmons, PhD. of the University of California, Davis, wrote the first scientific study on gratitude, its causes and potential impact on physical health. He showed conclusively that gratitude has a positive effect on reducing pain, improving digestion and strengthening the immune system.

A related study at the University of Connecticut found that gratitude can have a protective effect against heart attack. They also found that participants who had experienced one heart attack -but who saw benefits and gains from it, such as being more appreciative of life-experience a significantly lower risk of having a second heart attack.

To increase your level of gratitude, here are suggestions for getting started.

1) Keep a gratitude journal: Set aside time daily or even weekly to record several things you are grateful for. Typically, people list three to five things. This is probably the most effective strategy for improving gratitude by causing you to pay attention to the good things in your life.

2) Change your self-talk: Most of us are unaware of the negative things our mind focuses on each day. The first step is to pay attention to these negative thoughts and realize even if we think we are justified-the only person's health they are hurting is our own. Try reframing these thoughts by finding a more positive way to look at the situation. Instead of complaining about all the things you can no longer do, try changing that to all the things you can still do.

Gratitude will help you to be healthier and happier. It also can improve your relationships and make you feel more in control of your life. Practice being grateful: It is truly good for you.

For more information on health and wellness, call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120, email, visit its website at, or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext., Johnstown, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.



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