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Count Your Blessings Daily; Your Health Depends on It
By the time you read this, you'll no doubt be in some form of recovery from Thanksgiving. So let me add a late but sincere toast to your health and happiness as you move forward into the holiday season.
What I ask is that you stop for a moment and reflect on those fresh memories of the holiday characterized by family gatherings and giving thanks. I wish for you all that, in taking that moment, you can find a large portion of leftover gratitude from the events of Thanksgiving.
It turns out that it's just the thing you may need in the month ahead, which is so characterized by rampant consumerism and runaway stress — forces so dampening to the holiday spirit and meaning.
It starts with Black Friday, a marketing day designed to stoke impulse buying, increase our desire and lessen our self-control by playing upon our innate response to cries of scarcity (only x number left at this price!) and limited offers (sale ends today!). What can we, as shoppers, do to resist such a siren song?
Recent research suggests that a good way to prevent overspending and overstressing is by cultivating the emotion of gratitude. As noted in a recent opinion piece in The New York Times by psychology professor David DeSteno of Northwestern University, the solution to shopping excesses may lie in the essential message of Thanksgiving itself; it is believed that gratitude is a mode to enhancing patience and self-control. It was also found that feeling happy, though important, doesn't do much to enhance patience. Feeling grateful, on the other hand, does the trick. Through counting our blessings, we open a greater gift than any to be found in even a bounty of gift-wrapped boxes.
This reminder of the power of gratitude should make us all think a bit more about the role of attitude in delivering us the gift of good health and a happy life.
Study after study shows that happiness is a gateway to good health. Researchers have come to believe that a positive mental state has a direct effect on the body by reducing damaging physical processes that lead to illness.
For example, a 2012 review by the Harvard School of Public Health of more than 200 studies found a connection between positive psychological attributes — such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction — and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as lower levels of inflammation, a factor in many forms of disease.
This is partly because of the power of a positive attitude in changing behavior.
The Harvard study demonstrated that for those who have a good sense of well-being, it becomes easier to maintain good habits, such as exercising, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. People who have an optimistic mindset are likelier to engage in healthy behaviors because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals. It is the gift we must embrace and pass on to our children.
A recent study at the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance, a leading authority on wellness, has found that a child's emotional health is far more important to his or her satisfaction levels as an adult than previously believed; this includes academic achievement when young and wealth when older.
The study challenges the age-old assumption in education that academic achievement matters more than anything else. Among the study's concluding notes: "By far the most important predictor of adult life-satisfaction is emotional health, both in childhood and subsequently. We find that the intellectual performance of a child is the least important childhood predictor of life-satisfaction as an adult."
When it comes to the simple directive through the ages from parents to children to "count your blessings," it turns out to be not only good advice but also advice that helps make our brains and bodies healthier.
"There is a magnetic appeal to gratitude," notes Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and a pioneer in gratitude research. "It speaks to a need that's deeply entrenched."
"Gratitude serves as a corrective," Emmons adds. To reap the benefits, we must go beyond a passing "Hey, thanks" and establish it as a daily ritual, be it a prayer or meditation. This concerted, consistent effort to notice and appreciate the good things flowing to us has the power to change us and our lives for the better on many levels.
From a health standpoint, such a practice has been associated with improved kidney function, reduced blood pressure and stress hormone levels, and a stronger heart.
"A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to both fortune and misfortune," Emmons concludes. "We see the blessings, not just the curses."
Write to Chuck Norris (email@example.com) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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