BREMERTON, Wash. –
Thanksgiving is traditionally considered a time to relax with family and friends, indulge in delicious seasonal foods, and ring in the holiday season. When we think of Thanksgiving, feelings of gratitude come to the forefront of the mind. Believe it or not, gratitude is good for your health! Gratitude is not simply a feeling, it is a set of mindfulness behaviors and practices that can be used every day to improve overall health and well-being.
Research from the Harvard Medical School suggests that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve physical health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Researchers from the University of California, Berkley have spent more than a decade studying the connection between health outcomes and gratitude behaviors. Studies support the hypothesis that people of all ages and nationalities who have more grateful dispositions report a reduction in gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbance, and pre-existing high blood pressure.
Gratitude helps people focus on what they have instead of what they lack. Although gratitude behaviors may feel forced at first, a grateful mental state grows stronger with use and practice. Here are five ways to cultivate gratitude during the holidays:
- Write a thank you message or thank someone in person, it can stimulate feelings of happiness and nurture relationships with others by expressing enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. This can be especially important for those struggling with loneliness or grief during the holiday season.
- Keep a gratitude journal or have a gratitude partner. Make it a habit to write down, or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts and blessings received each day. This can be particularly beneficial when holiday stress begins to emerge, make time to foster your resilience through gratitude. As you write or speak with a loved one, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened.
- Consume foods and drinks mindfully. This includes acknowledging where food was grown and who prepared it, noticing the colors, flavors and textures of foods, and savoring small bites with appreciation for nourishment. Eating with gratitude can help influence healthy eating behaviors. The opposite of mindful eating, sometimes referred to as mindless or distracted eating, can be associated with anxiety, overeating, and weight gain.
- Accept imperfection, realize it is healthy and normal. Give yourself grace when planning for holiday gatherings, events, activities, and celebrations. Show gratitude for connectedness to others; a few cleansing breaths during stressful times can help the body shift focus and return to a mindful state.
- Gratitude is a heartwarming feeling but a growing body of research suggests mindfulness behaviors may actually improve heart health. The American Psychological Association and the University of California, San Diego’s School of Family Medicine and Public Health, found that increased gratitude behaviors influence inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health.
There are many ways to cultivate gratitude but no matter the form, simply asking “what am I grateful for today?” is a meaningful start. When gratitude is present, it can benefit you and those around you. In your Thanksgiving Day reflections and holiday activities, let gratitude be a gift you give to yourself and others. It is a gift that will keep giving all year long.