thoughts

Want To Be Healthy? Be Grateful.

I originally posted this over on Medium.

Want To Be Healthy? Be Thankful.

Last weekend, Mom dragged me to COR because she said she wanted to go hear the music. I agreed, since I hadn’t been to service in the new building. This week I went again, because…well, the music was good.

They recently added a massive new sanctuary with a massive (seriously) stained glass window and the result is stunning. Tim Carey designed the window, a depiction of Jesus and the story of the bible, which is actually the largest stained glass window in the world.

Side note: As a kid, my church didn’t have a massive stained glass window, so I was left to stare at the beige cross in front of the off-white wall if I got bored. And thankfully this window is behind the alter, so you can space off and stare at the colorful image and look like you’re paying attention.

What Is Gratitude?

Gratitude can be trait, a mood and an emotion. Overall, it’s the feeling or expression of being thankful. It is one aspect of many religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity all encourage gratitude towards others. Beyond religion, gratitude is shown to improve your well-being, mood and health. So it’s a good thing to be thankful or show gratitude for what you have or what people do for you.

Why Gratitude Makes You Healthy

“If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.” -Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy

By being grateful, and focusing on being appreciative, your outlook on life generally improves. If you spend your time thinking about the positive parts of your life that make you happy, as a result, you will be happier.

“Some people may not be grateful by nature but it is a habit you can get accustomed to,” said Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a psychiatrist and author of “Winter Blues.”

If you’re trying not to get sick this winter, maybe it’s a grateful attitude you need, not a flu shot.

Research shows that when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system is triggered and that can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and perhaps increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel so good.

Why Being Thankful Is Hard

There are so many things that can easily take your focus away from being thankful. Social media, for example, is a constant feed of people showing their happiness and their achievements. It’s easy to start comparing yourself to your friends and then feel less thankful for what you, yourself, have.

As humans, our ability to adapt to new situations also hinders our ability to be thankful. This is because regardless of positive or negative changes to our situations, we return to a stable level of happiness. If your happiness is manifested in achievements, each achievement is followed by a short burst of happiness and then a return to the same level as before. This is called the “hedonic treadmill” or “hedonic adaptation”.

The Hedonic Treadmill

This adaptation is good and bad. It allows for people in terrible circumstances or have suffered great losses to achieve happiness again after a short period of mourning. Unfortunately though, people who have achieved great things and are in positive environments shortly lose their happiness and return to their “baseline”.

How Gratitude Can Boost Your Career

If you are in a leadership role, no matter the size of your company, making your employees feel recognized and appreciated will lead to them being more engaged. When asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents replied “Give recognition.”

People generally value recognition and feeling appreciated more than higher salaries. If you think that you could improve your company’s culture, shift toward recognizing your co-workers and employees for their achievements. It will probably mean more to them than giving them the paycheck that they would have received anyway.

Outside of your work, if you reflect on it, the people closest to you are probably the ones you take for granted the most. Let them know you appreciate all they do for you, even if its just a text or a note.

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