How Gratitude Makes You Healthy

An attitude of gratitude. Thankful. Blessed. We all know that we should appreciate the things, people, and opportunities we have; however, did you know that an ‘attitude of gratitude’ has proven health benefits? (Possibly even more than that green juice you paid for.) Before we chat science, why not start with a little exercise to get that gratitude flowing? Ready, set, gratitude.

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  • The simple act of expressing thanks automatically lessens stress, which can lead to illnesses like cancer and heart disease, overtime. So, next time you’re in a rut, shift your focus to the good things you have going for you to boost your mood and your immune system.
  • Grateful people are more likely to take care of themselves, which is hugely related to both physical and mental well-being. Dedicating time for self-care makes us happier, less stressed, more focused, and more capable to take care of others. Think of the oxygen masks on airplanes; we can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves first.
  • Showing thanks may spark new relationships. Whether your colleague does you a favor or a stranger holds the door for you, expressing appreciation may initiate conversation, which may lead to friendship, which may lead to more happiness and even more gratitude.
  • An attitude of gratitude increases self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-esteem because your focus is on the good things that you like about yourself. Heck yes.
  • Grateful people are less likely to blame others, react with aggression, and experience anger, as they acknowledge their blessings and feel more empathy for others. Bye bye, road rage.
  • Trouble sleeping? Gratitude reduces anxiety, which can keep us awake or interrupt sleep. Simply put, get grateful and get good shut-eye.
  • Gratitude boosts resilience. We’re far more likely to overcome an obstacle or stay strong through a tough time if we keep an attitude of gratitude.
  • Grateful people are proven to exercise more, which also relieves stress and initiates all of the other benefits listed above. Lace up your sneakers for this double whammy.
  • You do not have to be “successful” to feel gratitude. In fact, those with less money or “stuff” have actually been proven to feel more gratitude. It’s not about what we have or do not have, it’s about perspective.

So, how do we practice daily gratitude? Simply set aside time daily or throughout the day to count your blessings. Write them down or simply make a mental list if you’re on-the-go. Be more observant of when others do something nice for you or someone else and express your appreciation. Even if you’re really down in the dumps, force yourself to smile or think of one thing you’re thankful for. It takes little energy and actually produces happy hormones, which lead to all of the above. Giving thanks all year-round will make you a healthier, happier, more productive, well-rested, confident, unstoppable human being.

One Healthy Breakdown: adopt an attitude of gratitude and reap the benefits…then express your gratitude for ’em and let the cycle continue!

Get Happier with Gretchen Rubin

Thanks to the CWBC, (Council for Women of Boston College) I got the opportunity to attend “Happiness Beyond the Heights” in NYC last week. We learned all about happiness first-hand from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project & Happier at Home. You guys know that I am ALL about happiness, so I am so intrigued to learn about happiness in a concrete way from someone who has made a career from studying the subject.

photo(109)Gretchen began by clarifying that happiness is a difficult concept to define, measure, and substantiate; therefor, she prefers the use of the word “happier.” Regardless of our circumstances and how happy we are now, most people can relate to wanting to be happier. It also must be known that being happier involves change and personal growth. (Aka you can’t change anyone but yourself, so if you’re hopping on the happier train, get ready to focus on YOU!)

Young Woman Bending Down and Smiling with Arms Stretched BackAs I learned watching The Happy Movie, 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% is controlled by our intentions.

One of my favorite of Gretchen’s many happy lessons is that happy people are helpful people. For many people, wanting to be happier or taking time for ourselves may be viewed as selfish. In actuality, happy people are far more likely to turn outward and help others. Think about it: people who volunteer, people who are charitable, people who are generous, those who offer to help you out, or do something to make you smile because they sense that you need it – these are usually happy people. Less happy people are more likely to isolate themselves and less likely to seek ways to help others. As Gretchen says, “ We should be selfish if only for selfless reasons.” So, go ahead and let yourself off the hook. Make time for what makes you happy and chock it up to doing a selfless deed, knowing that making others happier makes us even happier. Happiness is contagious. Happiness is a growing cycle. Do good, feel good. Give and you shall receive. Imagine if the world was run by happiness experts?

Gretchen gave us some other great happiness tips I’m excited to share about boosting personal happiness (which, we now know boosts the happiness of those around us too!) Gretchen’s first two simple checklist items for being happier include sleep (7-8 hours, it’s non-negotiable) and daily exercise (even 10-20 minutes is enough to get the endorphins rolling and best if outside in the sunlight). Personally, I struggle to get enough sleep, but I’m committed to making sleep a priority and you guys know I’m big on the exercise thing. Regardless of your fitness level, just get moving everyday. It’s been scientifically proven to boost happiness.

Gretchen advocates for focusing on the value of smell. All our senses can give us pleasure in different ways, but Gretchen explained that smell doesn’t take much time, effort, or money. While fresh baked chocolate chip cookies give us pleasure, the indulgence comes at the cost of calories, and baking them also takes up some time. A shopping spree sure gives us pleasure, but (cha-ching) comes at a financial cost. Also expensive and time-consuming, getting a massage to satisfy the pleasure of touch. Smell is fleeting, it does not take our time, money, or effort to appreciate a delightful smell. While you can buy a candle or perfume you love and indulge in that smell, it’s also about noticing the wonderful smells around us. I would also argue that music is an affordable sense that comes at little cost and little extra time. Hearing a song you love definitely boosts happiness, so give yourself the gifts of music and scent daily. It’s really about finding things that come at little cost to you, but really boost your happiness (ie: hot baths, a good book or magazine, cup of tea, favorite TV show, craft of choice, etc.)

Another of Gretchen’s philosophies: outer order contributes to inner peace. Lots of us feel that organization calms us. Whether it’s the coat closet, our desk, library, bedroom, etc., maintaining order on the outside will help us feel better, calmer, and clearer on the inside. It’s true, as much as I hate to clean, it always makes me feel renewed after a good tidying. Gretchen’s requirements for holding onto ‘stuff’ are; I either need it, use it, or love it. If none of the three, get rid of it. Wow, I really need to clean out my closet with those conditions…(and if you know me at all, no need to confirm that realization…I’m on it…)

It’s not all about purging “stuff;” it’s about value. Happiness has been shown not to be correlated to possessions or a lack thereof, but more to a value for what we do have. Gretchen recommends creating a shine for the possessions we love. For her, it was children’s literature. Instead of her collection being scattered around the house, she put it all in one spot and coordinated it so that it feels special now, that spot is dedicated to her children’s literature collection. It’s not about adding to a collection and needing more, more, more, it’s about treating possessions we value with value.

Lastly, anyone who has studied the concept of happiness will agree that the key to happiness is relationships. Happy people have happy relationships. Happy relationships make us happy. Happy people make for happier relationships. There’s that cycle again. Again, boosting happiness involves personal growth, meaning we cannot change others, what they do, or how they treat us, even if that contributes to unhappiness. What we can do, though, is change the way we react to others or set precedents with our own change-making actions. If you change yourself, dynamics within the relationship change and most likely, you’ll feel that the other person has changed for the better as well. If you want to improve your relationships, improve you. If you want to be happier, focus on building positive relationships.

Man and a Woman with Their Heads Together SmilingOne Healthy Breakdown: Whether you’re up for a complete happiness revamp or you’re curious to know more about The Happiness Project, pick up the book or check out gretchenrubin.com today! And another thanks to the CWBC for hosting this happy event…go BC Grad School of Social Work! Have to shout-out to my alma mater!)