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December 05, 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude Can Improve Health

While the holiday of Thanksgiving is already behind us, there can be great benefit to people who consider extending that feeling of gratitude into a year-long activity. Researchers have found that the simple act of gratitude, when practiced consistently, makes a significant improvement in people's lives in terms of better health and happiness.

No pills, potions or lotions? No strict diet or exercise regimen? Can just a positive emotion such as gratitude guarantee better health? It may be a dramatic departure from what we've been taught about how to get healthier, but the connection between gratitude and health actually goes back a long way.

Benefits of Gratitude

University of California Davis professor Robert Emmons' research indicates that "Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, (and) regular physical examinations." Stress Buster It's no secret that stress can make us sick, particularly when we can't cope with it. It's linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, and claims responsibility for up to 90% of all doctor visits. Gratitude, it turns out, can help us better manage stress. "Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress," Emmons says.

In fact, Blair Justice, Ph.D., professor-emeritus states that, “A growing body of research supports the notion that rediscovering a sense of abundance by thinking about those people and things we love lowers the risks of coronary events.”

Immune Booster

When we are grateful we tend to be more optimistic, a characteristic that researchers say boosts the immune system. “There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function,” says Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah. In one, researchers comparing the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress found that, by midterm, students characterized as optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates.

Optimism also has a positive health impact on people with compromised health. In separate studies, patients confronting AIDS, as well as those preparing to undergo surgery, had better health outcomes when they maintained attitudes of optimism.

Who Feels Gratitude?

How is it that some people manage to feel grateful in the face of challenging life circumstances, while others sink into despair? “So much of gratitude is about one's perspective and framework for looking at the world and at self. People who tend to be more mindful of the benefits they’ve received tend to focus their attention outward,” Emmons explains.

Even in the face of tremendous loss or tragedy, it's possible to feel gratitude. In fact, adversity can boost gratitude, recent findings show. In a web-based survey tracking the personal strengths of more than 3,000 American respondents, researchers noted an immediate surge in feelings of gratitude after Sept. 11, 2001.

Cultivating Gratitude

  • Research shows that simply focusing each day on three to five things for which you can be grateful will increase your health and happiness.
  • Maintain a gratitude journal. Emmons' research showed that people who kept a gratitude journal on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and maintained greater optimism about the future.
  • Create a list of benefits in your life and ask yourself, “To what extent do I take these for granted?” Some people need concrete visual reminders to maintain mindfulness of their gratitude, explains Emmons.
  • Talk to yourself in a creative, optimistic, and appreciative manner. This could entail simply reflecting on things for which you're grateful or, if you're facing a challenging situation, seeing how it can ultimately be beneficial. For instance, having to cope with particularly difficult people in your job or neighborhood can improve your patience and understanding.
  • Reframe a situation by looking at it with a different, more positive attitude. Example: Rather than seeing your 6-year-old daughter as cranky and irritable, a father might reach the conclusion that the youngster is tired and needs rest.

Patient Appreciation

As Upper Cervical Doctors, we truly appreciate our patients for all they do in supporting our Mission of helping people get well and stay well through Upper Cervical Care.

We appreciate the fact that you are willing to take responsibility for your health and the health of family and friends. We know that you value and understand the importance of prevention and wellness which can ultimately make the world healthier and truly a better place to live. Please continue to share the Upper Cervical message with friends and family, it can truly change lives.

Plan Now for a Great New Year

150 Million Americans will make a New Year’s Resolution for 2012. Unfortunately, if they don't have an action plan, their Resolution may be doomed before it ever gets started. Follow these time-tested ideas to dramatically increase your chances of keeping your goals, and turning year-end ambitions into permanent lifestyle changes and avoid being a statistic.

Start With the Big Picture

Imagine your ideal life. The desire to end bad habits and adopt healthy ones can be intensified when you concentrate on the consequences of those habits (i.e. poor health, mounting expenses, stressful relationships, etc.).

Let go of the past. Learn from your history, but don't let it stand as an obstacle between you and your dreams.

Make challenging yet attainable goals. Many people make resolutions that are so ambitious, they are more often daunting and overwhelming. The result: people give up because they think, “there’s no way to get there from here.”

Create an Action Plan

Be specific. Vague ideas just won't cut it. The more specific you make your desires, the easier it will be to act on them.

Plan small steps. Nothing is achieved in one giant leap. Small steps, carried out each day will create amazing changes over time and provide you with focus, control, encouragement, motivation, progress, and success.

Make deadlines with rewards. Without a deadline, dreams will remain dreams.

Write it down. Saying something is one thing, but when you actually see your goals, strategies, deadlines and rewards written down it becomes a living, breathing thing.

Begin Immediately

If Not Now, When? We are all gifted at the art of rationalization and procrastination. Ask yourself, 'If not now, when?' If you're honest, you'll realize that now is as good a time as any to begin moving toward a better life.

Become Aware of Your Thoughts. Be aware of the things you say to yourself. Every time you come to a negative phrase stop yourself and replace it with a strong and empowering thought.

What Company do You Keep? The friends and family members you associate with play a major role in your life. Ask yourself if the people in your life are helping you become the person you want to be or are standing in the way of progress.

“Slipping  & Checking”

Setbacks are normal and should not spell disaster for your Resolution. Remember that most people who achieve their goals typically average 14 slips or setbacks.

Remain flexible. Expect that your plan can and will change. Life has a funny way of throwing unexpected things at us, and flexibility is required to complete almost anything in life. Stay focused on your dreams!

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