Friday, February 4, 2011

Practice an Attitude of Gratitude

“When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
and I fall asleep
counting my blessings”

Bing Crosby immortalized these words in the classic film, “White Christmas.”  You may think that this is a nice, but old fashioned, sentiment.  However, new research in the growing field of Positive Psychology shows that counting one’s blessings has power to maintain both physical and emotional health.   An attitude of gratitude may just be the key to greater health and happiness you have been looking for.
It is generally accepted that stress makes us sick.  Stress has been linked to several causes of death including heart disease and cancer.  90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress related symptoms or illnesses.  However, research is now indicating that an attitude of gratitude and optimism significantly boost the immune system and have tremendous value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress.
Even in times of great loss or tragedy it is possible to feel genuine gratitude.  In fact, adversity can boost gratitude.  You have likely heard someone say, or may have even said yourself, “I’m so glad he didn’t have to suffer.”  “We had 57 wonderful years together.”  “Everyone has been so kind.  I don’t know what I would do without my family, faith and friends.”  In one study following 9/11 persons who expressed gratitude for an increased sense of belonging and unity were found to be less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The reality, of course, is that you have suffered a great loss.  Grief and pain are a normal part of how we respond to such losses.  So what role can gratitude play in life in the season of grief?  What can you do to foster an attitude of gratitude and reap the positive benefits of gratitude in your life?
§  Keep a gratitude journal.  At least weekly sit down and make a list of the things for which you are grateful.  Your list may include the simple or the sublime.  From chocolate chip cookies to a display of Impressionists artwork, if you are thankful for it, it can go on your list.  People who do this type of journaling have been shown to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel more optimistic about life in general and more positive about the future.
§  Practice positive self-talk.  Say to yourself, “I can do this.”  “I’m stronger than I think.”  “I can cope.”  “I will benefit from this by ___________.”  “God’s strength is made perfect even in my weakness.”
§  Reframe the situation.  Look at it through another lens.  Instead of looking upon the child in your life as cranky, irritable and troublesome, consider that she might be tired and need rest.  Or perhaps she is worried or scared and doesn’t know how to tell you what she is feeling.  
§  Reach out and help someone.  Finding some way to brighten another’s day makes you feel good.  A simple act of kindness shown to another can give meaning and purpose to your day.  Reaching out to others when we ourselves are going through a difficult time can give us perspective on our own challenges and turn our hearts again to the attitude of gratitude. 
So, what are you grateful for today?  I would love to know.  Please share your gratitude in a comment to this post so that in the words of the Apostle Paul, “You and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”   
I am so thankful for the beauty
God's creation!
(Romans 1:12)

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