Friday, November 25, 2011

Gratitude-Healthy Recipe for Thanksgiving

-The Christian Science Monitor

… You may already know that gratitude ennobles a person, warms hearts of people in his/her orbit, and generally improves life. If experts – secular and religious alike – are to be believed, gratitude may well be holy grail of personal and societal well-being. If you're grateful, studies show, you are prone to be happier, less aggressive, and less depressed; to be more helpful, more satisfied with life, and have better friendships; to be more generous, less envious, and less concerned with prestige. You're even likely to have a higher grade-point average. What's more, you tend to be healthier physically and mentally. And practicing, as you do, a key component of strong moral character, and virtue central to world's great secular as well as religious belief systems, you can stand tall.

...grateful heart boosts energy and determination, helping students avoid getting bogged down when they encounter challenges.

"Gratitude is all about attitude. And attitude is a choice." "Gratitude is important because once you learn to look through that lens of life, everything shifts. You no longer find yourself focusing on what's wrong with your life but what's good about your life."

Never mind what you're thankful for. It's your grateful heart that's good for you. And it's good for rest of us, too. "People really, really like grateful people,"….

"There sometimes seems to be a spirit of complaint in the air,"...As if in response, a cornucopia of thankfulness has spilled forth – via tweets, blogs, websites, and Facebook, through programs in classroom and studies in lab, through retreats and exercises, books and journals, workshops and symposiums, some New Age and others old-school. In spite of – or perhaps even because of – cultural forces against it, “gratitude is also thriving.”

But no one needs an app to recognize a thankful heart….

Gratitude leads to success
… grateful job seekers have advantage: "You want to hire people … who are going to create culture that's gracious to work in."…"gratitude gives you strength." …abiding gratitude "for chance to continue living. ..Thank God [for survival]. And where does that gratitude lead? To giving back."…"more gratitude you have, more successful your life becomes,"…

Medical science recognizes gratitude
Indeed, the grateful may be their own best friends.

… gratitude is key component of resilience, person's ability to withstand stress – to swing with inclement weather, as bridge does, and "give yet not break." …"When you wake up, it's helpful if you have something you look forward to," ...

Medical scientists, too, believe they are able to trace beneficial effects of gratitude in humans….While scientists have yet to conduct specific brain studies on physiological effects of thankfulness, they have found that intense focus on positive things, such as favor of a friend, causes positive thinking – or positive neural pathways, as medical science terms it – to engage. …Conversely, if you dwell on negative – say friend's forgetting of your birthday – opposite happens: Stress can be triggered, and it becomes easier to process things negatively in future. …"even though it might feel forced, if you focus on gratitude over time, it does change way your brain works." …a gratitude guru says that people motivated to change their levels of happiness, or to lift a mild depression, can do so through gratitude "intervention." This might entail keeping gratitude journal, for instance, or spending 15 minutes a week remembering past kindnesses and, in response, writing letter of thanks to person who did kindness. "Ones who gain greatest benefits [are those who] try hard to carry it out over time,"

Spontaneous thanksgiving
Gratitude and religion go hand in hand, as evidenced by many ways believers express their thanks,… "spontaneous response of anyone with any sense at all that our existence as human beings is not pure accident. Thanksgiving is just very central way of relating between believers and their ultimate reality – God."…There is grace said before meals…hymns. ..[reading] Scriptures….psalms. … spontaneous prayer of one who received something wished for or was spared something feared. ("What's the first thing you say then?" "Thank God!")

…When people who are asked to focus on specific ideas during laboratory studies choose to focus on things that have strong meaning to them personally, neurological effects are measurable,... "So when people feel gratitude in context with God, it combines gratitude with extremely strong sense of love, compassion, and belief, and have a more robust response."

Swimming in sea of cyberthanks

…Off-line or on, gratitude comes in degrees and varies with personality. It can be fleeting feeling or emotion: You're grateful it didn't rain on your day off, for instance. Or, it can be a set of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that are reliable and stable over time.

"Some people are more prone by nature to be grateful." … For grateful, almost anything can be object of gratitude, and virtually any situation bears some thankful possibility

Even in worst of times, "if you're thankful for someone, for something, even a phone call, you have reached out beyond yourself," …"Once focus is off self, there's great serenity."

Gratitude can interrupt … "malignant narcissism of the terminally ill." [Doctors] observes evidence of that when [asking] patients about near-universal source of gratitude – family dog.

"No one can think about their pet without smiling," …. This shift in focus helps battle pessimism, something Mayo studies associate with shorter life span and decreased quality of life. "You cannot be optimistic if you're not grateful.”.

Gratitude equation includes taking

Gratitude, by definition, entails appreciation of generosity, whether you believe that it came from another person, from God, even from happenstance. It means you have to take, which is not easy if you've always prided yourself on self-sufficiency. But for those who have been in need, receiving does tend to beget giving…

…Gratitude of those who were in need and received help was put to direct use for others in similar need of work, perpetuating thankfulness/altruism cycle.

…biggest gift? Encouragement…"Everybody realizes that God does have a plan for everyone. If you do listen, God will send you some helpful servants – some sounding boards, realization that somebody does care and is willing to be alongside you."

Many scientists consider gratitude helpful survival strategy during difficult times, …

These days, personal development, temperament, life trauma, and culture of entitlement affect how thankful person is. And personal morality dictates how those thanks are used. After all, insincere shower of thanks – when not totally transparent and boring – can exploit somebody who's soft touch and can manipulate the generous for personal gain.

To qualify as virtue, thankfulness needs to meet a high standard.

"It's not just about doing right thing, but doing it for right reason," … "If you make lots of donations to charity so you get your name in the paper, that's not it." If you do lots of virtuous acts, but your heart is self-centered, then you don't have the virtue. Even learning about benefits of gratitude so you can reap those benefits doesn't count either. "Key is not only to be grateful, but to do it out of genuine thanksgiving."

Learning to recognize kindness
But no one beats good old Mom and Dad for lessons in thankfulness, experts say.

"Easiest way for me to explain gratitude to [tots] is through their parents – to show them that their parents supply them with everything they need.”

Parents can seize moment when somebody does kindness for their child. What did the giver intend? What might it have cost that person in money, say, or in time or emotion – to do the kindness? What benefit did child receive as a result? Goal of such an exercise? Awareness.

Studies show benefits of being grateful

Deseret News 2011 11 23

…Experts are saying that sentiment behind our American day of feasting might actually have important benefits to health and wellness. Gratitude, apparently, can make even most holiday-phobic among us happier, kinder, and less likely to dump cranberry sauce on our siblings' heads.

New York Times reported some of benefits of gratitude on minds and bodies based on number of different studies.

Being thankful, reaching goals, getting fit

…studied effects of gratitude by experimenting with "gratitude journal." According to Times, …selected group of subjects to simply record 5 things every week they were grateful for. After 2 months of this behavior, study reports, "Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based)" than those who did not.

…Study also showed physical changes: authors reported those keeping gratitude journals exercised more regularly and reported fewer physical symptoms.

Gratitude instead of Ambien

Those tested who kept gratitude journals were not just more active—they were also more rested. …study included group of adults with neuromuscular disease who underwent "gratitude intervention" for 3 weeks. Afterward, participants reported improvements in both how much and how well they slept.

…. not alone in finding correlation between gratitude and rest. ….review last year of several studies looking at correlation between gratitude and well-being. They specifically mentioned that even among participants who were usually "sleep-impaired," ending day with "positive pre-sleep cognitions" was big help. Showing gratitude promoted these positive bedtime reflections, "which seemed to explain why they had better sleep overall."

Gratitude: steroids for couples

Couples who are thankful for each other—and show it—improve their relationships, according to yet another gratitude study,…. Titled "It's the little things," research concludes that people in relationships felt 2 things in response to day-to-day thoughtful behaviors of their significant others: indebtedness and gratitude. It was gratitude that brought happy feelings next day, and was concluded to have power in keeping a relationship on track. … feelings of indebtedness showed engagement and commitment externally, but "gratitude had uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as booster shot for relationship."

More thankful, less aggressive

But research shows that benefits of showing gratitude are not just reserved for romantic relationships. … study considered connection between gratitude and aggression….study concludes that gratitude is linked to lower levels of aggression. Gratitude, according to authors, requires empathy–impulse incompatible with aggression.

Pursuit of happiness

What every recent study on gratitude seems to share is that in addition to specific benefits each noted, thankful people tended to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. Participants…were more enthusiastic about their activities and more optimistic about week that lay ahead.

Associated Press reports "When you stop and count your blessings, you hijack your emotional system"—resetting yourself to see things in new light. And this reset can be accomplished in simple ways. ….effect of writing grateful letters on well-being of group of young adult students. …project required participants to write 3 letters over 3 weeks to someone in their lives for whom they were thankful. …no pithy thank-you notes, no throwaways. They had to mean something for writer and recipient. …study concluded that letter-writers saw increases in their levels of gratitude over time--but also in their levels of overall happiness. For its authors, project revealed clear connection between being grateful and being happy. Even more importantly, happiness was increased through intentional action on part of individuals. What this means? "Volitional act of writing letters of gratitude supports previous research which demonstrated that individuals have ability to direct positive change in their lives,"…. People can make themselves happier. They can do it today, by giving thanks.

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