The holidays are about lots of things: family, friends, food and being grateful. As it turns out, being grateful does more than make you happy for the wonderful things you have in your life – it also can make you healthier.
“Being thankful and grateful as a regular practice can lead to so many benefits in your life,” says Mary Ellen Thieroff, Marketing Director of Royal Oaks, an established Life Plan Community in Sun City, AZ. “Your relationships will become deeper and more meaningful, your mood and spirits will be boosted, you’ll become more motivated and engaged and have better health and well-being overall.”
Like many aspects of mental well-being, practicing gratitude can feel awkward for some people. It’s important to think of it as a practice and a muscle that you can flex to get stronger over time, says Mary Ellen. “Some people are naturally optimistic and grateful, while others may need a little practice,” she says. “Fortunately, just like with any habit, practice makes perfect. By practicing gratitude on a regular basis – even just for a few minutes each day – the process will become easy and natural.”
How Is Gratitude Good for Your Health?
- It nurtures strong relationships. Showing appreciation and gratitude for the people in your life makes both you and them feel good. Everyone likes to know how much they mean to someone else. Letting the ones you love know how important they are and how much you appreciate them boosts happiness and increases opportunities to connect.
- It improves overall physical health. It may seem hard to believe, but grateful people are healthier people – and there’s proof. Scientists and medical professionals have found that people who are grateful report fewer pains, fewer health issues and a better outlook on life than other individuals. Grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health by exercising regularly, going to the doctor and getting check-ups regularly, and practicing other good habits that increase longevity.
- It improves mental health. Depression, anger, anxiety, frustration and other negative emotions can feed off of one another and send people spiraling down into a gloomy swirl of toxicity. Gratitude, on the other hand, attracts positive emotions such as contentedness, peacefulness and overall happiness. Why is this? Well, practicing gratitude is very closely linked to the practice of meditation, which focuses on being in the moment and consciously letting go of negative thoughts and emotions. This, in turn, results in reduced cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”) and increases serotonin (the “happiness hormone”).
- It allows us to connect more readily to others. Social connection is an incredibly important part of healthy aging, as it improves physical health, mental health and emotional health all at once. And gratitude makes us more open to new relationships, as it can reduce aggression and boost empathy. People who are grateful are less likely to respond to situations in anger and instead seek to understand the other person – even in situations where the other person is not behaving kindly. Of course, gratitude also can open the door to new relationships. Saying “thank you” and showing appreciation makes new acquaintances feel more open to you and more likely to seek a relationship – meaning more opportunities to socially connect.
- It improves sleep patterns. Yes, it’s true – grateful people sleep better. This can be for a variety of reasons, from the ability to prevent negative thoughts from keeping you awake at night, to decreased stress and worry, to the other benefits of gratitude (such as better physical health, getting more exercise, etc.). An easy way to practice gratitude before going to bed is by writing for 15 minutes in a “gratitude journal” – this is a great way to think about all the good things in life so they’re fresh in your mind when it’s time to drift off into dreamland.
- It boosts self-esteem. Depression is a large problem among older adults, and it can cause a slew of different health issues from heart problems to diabetes and potentially even dementia. When self-esteem is boosted through practicing gratitude, individuals are less likely to feel depressed and are better able to manage their mental health.
- Gratitude makes us stronger mentally. Research has shown that gratitude not only reduces stress, but also enables individuals to more easily overcome difficulty and trauma. A 2006 study of Vietnam War veterans showed that those who experience higher levels of gratitude have reduced rates of PTSD. By simply recognizing what you have to be thankful for, even in difficult times, you become more resilient and able to face whatever challenges lie ahead.
Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude
- Write a thank-you note. Has someone in your life done something you appreciate? Whether the act was large or small, writing a thank you note is an excellent way to nurture your relationship with the other person and make yourself feel happier, too. There doesn’t have to be a reason to send a thank-you note, either – simply saying hello and letting a loved one know how much they mean is reason enough.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Every day spend 15 minutes writing down things that you’re thankful for. (It’s definitely okay to repeat things you’re thankful for day after day.) Many people choose to keep a journal beside their bed and write things down right before going to sleep.
- Volunteer your time. Sharing your time and talents to help others allows us to give back (which boosts self-esteem) and also allows us to be more grateful for the good things we have in life. In other words, helping others helps you!
- Practice active appreciation. Active appreciation means flipping how you think about difficulties or situations in your life. For example, instead of getting angry because someone cut you off in traffic, recognize that emotion and instead think about how grateful you are to have a car. Yes, it can seem a little silly at first, but by actively knocking yourself out of a negative feedback loop, you will naturally become more happy and grateful.
- Spend time with friends and family. It’s easy to be grateful when we’re around the people we love. This year be sure to stop and recognize the blessings in your life when you’re gathered around the dinner table (and also when you’re not).
A vibrant oasis in the heart of Arizona.
If you love the idea of living in a community that sees the world a little differently – welcome home to Royal Oaks. Come discover the extraordinary when you reach beyond the familiar. You’ll have the time of your life in our Life Plan Community, exploring the almost endless possibilities.
Conveniently located near Phoenix in Sun City, Arizona, our upscale senior living community is an oasis of 50+ lush acres featuring a myriad of plants, trees and rose gardens. We are a nonprofit community that offers a full continuum of senior living services and care to older adults, from independent living, assisted living, memory support and complete supportive living. Continual improvements to the campus have resulted in state-of-the-art communal and private areas. Our main building bustles like Grand Central Station, complete with all the amenities of a small city.
With state-of-the-art technology, beautiful residences and engaging programs and amenities, Royal Oaks was designed with a focus on the future and all its potential. We invite you to visit our vibrant retirement community near Phoenix and get a taste for the good life. Call 623-377-7663 today to schedule a personal tour.