It’s become oh-so-chic to make Thankful Lists. Oprah had people doing it a few years back. Various authors have people do it, especially around Thanksgiving. Psychologists have their patients keep their gratitude journals when they’re facing times of depression or discontent with their lives.
Making a list of the things for which you are grateful is a beneficial process if you need to take a good look at your life and gain a new perspective. Or perhaps, things just seem a little off kilter and your perspective needs a bit more balance.
But there’s an important detail we seem to be missing – that attitude of gratitude shouldn’t just be a fleeting, once in a lifetime or once a year project. It should be something we carry with us at all times.
Science has long taught us that hugs help us live longer, with recommendations being anywhere from four to fifteen hugs a day. (Better start hugging!) But how many people are aware that being thankful also contributes to a healthier lifestyle? In a study conducted just a decade ago, it was discovered that by keeping track of the things for which they were grateful, subjects developed a more positive and optimistic appraisal of their lives. What’s more, they spent more time exercising, and they reported fewer physical symptoms.
Scientists have also discovered that our bodies need serotonin, a neurotransmitter. More serotonin is released into the brain when we smile or say, “Thank you.”
Do you ever feel scatterbrained or worry about your memory? Are you slightly afraid that you’re going to turn into your mother or your grandmother, losing your keys one minute and your car in a parking lot the next? Laugh more and develop that thankful attitude. The serotonin which is released helps build synapses in your brain, which increases your attention to detail.
To be honest, some of us just seem to have more difficulty being grateful than others. Some of us identify more with Grumpy than with Happy. But all is not lost. Another study found that up to forty percent of our happiness might result from actions we choose to do to make ourselves happier. As one author put it, we can reset our happiness thermometers.
At this time of year, as we traditionally pause in the midst of our chaos to give thanks, perhaps we should let those grateful moments build into daily habits. Along with our exercise, flossing, and showers, we can add the regimen of counting our blessings. It’s certainly more pleasant than the first two, at least. And the practice is life-changing. Research has also determined that this attitude of gratitude inspires “prosocial reciprocity” and underlies reciprocal altruism. Having gratitude builds and strengthens social bonds and friendships and helps us to feel loved and cared for by others. If that’s not enough, gratitude has also been found to help to build and strengthen a sense of spirituality.
Feeling thankful, yet? When you next face yourself in the mirror, smile at your wonderful self. Smile for your wonderful life. And give thanks. For your blessings are multitudinous. Now”¦ start counting.