The great power of gratitude - saying “thank you” has healthy benefits - Aging Well - Explorer

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The great power of gratitude - saying “thank you” has healthy benefits

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This month offers opportunities for reflection and gratitude. As the year winds down, it is common to turn our thoughts to the things for which we are grateful.  In addition to celebrating the freedoms preserved for us by our nation’s veterans, we also celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. As you give thanks this year, be thankful too that your gratitude brings with it many benefits for staying healthy and happy.

Psychologists recommend gratitude as a way to reinforce optimism and a positive outlook. So, before you get caught up in the demands that the season may impose, experts say it may be worthwhile to slow down and take some time to simply appreciate and give thanks for the many things you already have in your life. In fact, it could keep you healthy!

A Healthy Dose of Thanks

Multiple studies have found that practicing gratitude on a daily basis has a positive impact on all areas of our life, including emotional response, personality, health, careers and our relationships.  Practicing daily “thanks”—either by reviewing your life privately or by actually thanking others—not only creates positive effects in these areas, but also to an individual’s overall feeling of happiness. In fact, there are proven medical and physiological benefits to practicing gratitude.

One study conducted by Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and the University of California at Davis showed that when people incorporate gratitude into their life on a daily basis, it increased their alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy levels.  Additionally, these people experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to volunteer, exercised more regularly, and made more strides towards achieving their personal goals. Additional studies have shown that even modest acts of gratitude can alleviate anxiety, significantly decrease systolic blood pressure and hostility, and increase the quality and duration of sleep, while decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

Get a Gratitude Attitude

Like many good habits and perspectives, an attitude of gratitude can take time to develop. The good news for older adults is that the wisdom and experience that come with age make them especially capable of reaping the benefits which gratitude can provide. However, improving your attitude is not always easy.  There are several reasons why older adults may shy away from expressing gratitude: for example, they may be nervous or uncomfortable, or they may assume people already know how they feel.  Though actions and words over a lifetime do say a lot, there could still be much left unsaid. Sending a simple letter or card, making a phone call or having an in-person conversation can open many hearts, including your own.

As author and World War II veteran Robert Moskin says, “One of life’s gifts is that each of us, no matter how tired and downtrodden, finds reasons for thankfulness; for the crops carried in from the fields and the grapes from the vineyard.”

Being able to express your gratitude can open your world to a multitude of possibilities, and nurture your body in ways exercise cannot.  With a few simple steps, we are all able to reap the positive effects of saying “thank you” on a daily basis. Above all, it’s important to emphasize that there is no time limit for being grateful.  Whether it’s giving thanks for something someone did yesterday or 70 years ago—expressing your gratitude is always important, and always appreciated.

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