Stuffed Full of Gratitude

This time of year really does give me the fuzziest of warm fuzzies, even when the temps are in the teens. We’re huddling ‘round the fireplace, planning family gatherings, digging out the star-shaped cookie cutters, hanging lights, and trying our best to ignore retailers’ best efforts to convince us that the season is all about buying stuff.

The holidays are about togetherness, which helps keep the focus on expressing gratitude for what we already have. Too often, it’s easy to become dissatisfied with things as they are. With an estimated 1,500 advertisements bombarding us each day, we can fall prey to feeling as though we aren’t enough or that we don’t have enough or that what we have isn’t good enough.

When faced with this spiritual and psychological racket, gratitude, which comes from the Latin word gracia and means grace, is like an astringent for the soul. It helps us to drown out the noise coming from the next big thing and appropriately helps us refocus on the blessings already present in our lives. Being in a constant state of want and feeling inadequate creates stress and anxiety, which not only wears us down psychologically, but also lowers immune function.

Ancient spiritual wisdom has taught us that gratitude is key to happiness and health, and recent studies are proving that modern research is catching up with this mantra. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, University of California Davis psychology professor and author of Thanks!, "Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular physical examinations." His research finds that optimism, which is prevalent in grateful people, significantly boosts the immune system

Dr. Emmons, along with Dr. Michael McCullough, professor of psychology at the University of Miami, also found that increased energy, determination, alertness, and enthusiasm -- and decreased stress and depression -- were all reported in those who incorporated gratitude into their daily lives. Additionally, these people were more likely to help others and made more progress toward personal goals. Another growing body of research is also supporting the notion that shifting from a sense of lacking to a sense of abundance lowers the risks of coronary disease.

According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, author and visionary, “If all of this happens when you focus for just 15–20 seconds on something that brings you pleasure, joy, or a feeling of gratitude, imagine what would happen to your health if you were able to cultivate thoughts of appreciation on a consistent and regularly basis.”

Just as being dissatisfied with what we have is a learned behavior, so too we can learn to become more grateful. Research shows that we can develop a deep sense of peace and wellbeing and increase our health and happiness by simply giving thanks for three to five things each day. There is also evidence that sharing this gratitude with loved ones gives a double dose of these life-giving benefits.

So why wait to reap the many rewards? It costs nothing and takes little time to express gratitude for all of the many blessings we have. As Epicurus stated, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.”

Jill Grunewald is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Counselor, health writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. Her practice, Healthful Elements, focuses on bio-individual health and whole-foods therapy, with specialization in the endocrine system and hormones, particularly thyroid and adrenal health. Jill's last post for Simple, Good, and Tasty was Brussels Sprouts: Tiny Yet Mighty.