Throughout this month of November, we are flooded by talk of gratitude and discussing all that we are thankful for. We are told over and over, and I think we all recognize the fact that gratitude can help change our feelings and emotional state. As we can only experience one emotion at a time, fixing our minds on what we are thankful for helps pull our focus away from negative thoughts and frustrations for what we are lacking. But did you know gratitude also has been proven to have a positive effect on our physical bodies, improving our physical health?
From Greater Good Magazine's article by Summer Allen in 2018, Is Gratitude Good for Your Health, they list that in one study more grateful participants reported fewer health problems (such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections, and sleep disturbances); in another study, they reported fewer physical symptoms (including headaches, dizziness, stomachaches, and runny noses). And according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, gratitude improves overall physical health. Those participating in the study reported fewer health problems and better sleep when focusing on the things they were thankful for.
Where you bring your attention determines how you feel, and feeling grateful is a healthy and hopeful place to be. Studies have shown that when you journal, express or THINK grateful and purposeful thoughts, you are more likely to be happy and healthy. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being and has found it greatly improves our psychological health- increasing our happiness and lessening depression and anxiety.
I believe we can all attest that this is not an easy thing to do. We are often bombarded with comparison, tragedy and pain. We can be deceived by our overactive, over-stimulated minds, and our job is to reel in those thoughts, evaluate them for what they are and turn them to worship, praise or gratefulness. We are not controlled by events or people, but by the perceptions we make of them.
From Ann Voskamp's ever-popular book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann writes, "And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me,” and "Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.” Ann talks in detail about giving thanks, eucharisteo, in it's true, raw form, even in the most difficult of times. She also says how this act is what God asks of us all. For us to truly live the life God has gifted us and live it fully, filled with joy, we must always begin with gratitude or thanksgiving.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
God's will for you is to GIVE THANKS in all circumstances. God knows and delights in you. God has created us and wants what is best for us. His way is always best. Numerous studies have shown this simple, but not always so easy shift of attitude can change our health. So how do we do it?
Here are a few attainable suggestions.
Identify areas of your life for which you can express gratitude.
(This may even be a tiny moment in your day. A beautiful sunset, the sound of children laughing, a particularly delicious piece of fruit, etc.)
Whatever it is, actively express gratitude for those things verbally and intentionally.
(Maybe writing in a gratitude journal or expressing them aloud to a friend or in prayer.)
Make this a daily habit. Keep track of what you are thankful for and make it a part of your everyday life. Hold yourself accountable or ask someone you love to help hold you accountable.
Watch your physical, mental and emotional health change. Write down the effects you see and feel in your body after 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, even 1 year of staying focused on gratitude. Allow these changes to motivate you to continue to stay in an attitude of gratitude.