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Gratitude: The Medicinal Mental Supplement

Follow These Four Steps for The Full Dose

Hey Dr. Mantell, this may be the latest “health supplement” on the block but it’s been around for thousands of years, hasn’t it?  You bet it’s been around for thousands of years. In Psalm 100-4, we read, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.” Even during these “sandpapering” times of COVID19, maybe especially during these times, we are being asked to look within with gratitude for the opportunity to thrive and grow. One with a grateful lens sees the proper response to this challenge being to prioritize our social connections, our network with others, and to serve each other, for the benefit of the other, for ourselves, and for the greater world.

We can look at researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley who launched a multi-million dollar, three-year project, called “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude.” People who are deeply thankful, who count their blessings, who notice the simple joys of daily life, and who acknowledge everything they have in positive ways, engage in healthier behaviors and generally take better care of themselves…and others.

Gratitude. It is medicinal–yes, along with mindfulness, healthy nutrition, restorative sleep, positive social connections, natural physical activity, living with a purpose, stress-reducing behaviors and thoughts. Gratitude promises more robust immunity, lower blood pressure, enhanced sleep, more joy and optimism, less stress, and, get this — better health outcomes for those facing surgery when they maintain attitudes of optimism and gratitude.

People who are grateful see the world filled with abundance and victory, train their view on what can go right in life, see hassles rather than horrors filling their days, and view life as always offering rich possibilities. Ungrateful people are burdened with a perspective that keeps them looking at what’s missing, what can go wrong, and are filled with a feeling of deprivation, scarcity and inadequacy. 

The word gratitude, originating in the Latin word gratia, means grace, graciousness or gratefulness, and is thankfulness, an appreciation for whatever you receive, seeing the goodness in everything. Grateful people understand that nothing ever happens TO them, but rather that everything—everything—happens FOR them. They know that when one door closes, adopting a grateful attitude is very valuable in being prepared for the next door that will always open. They understand that failure isn’t a setback, it’s not a definition of who they are, but a preparation for their future success – a setup for whenever and however that will come. Grateful folks know that whatever they are experiencing is preparing them for what they hope for. Gratitude allows seeing difficulties through a lens of success—preventing stress.

In his 2007 book, Thanks: How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Robert Emmons reported on his well-known study that found that people who keep a daily journal listing five things they feel grateful for each day are 25% happier than those who don’t.  He also described this group as feeling “…more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, attentive, energetic, excited, determined, and strong…” than those who focus on the hassles of daily life.  The gratitude group also reported fewer physical symptoms and exercised more, which of course are related. The benefits of focusing, daily, on gratitude extends to three pillars of wellbeing: emotional, mental and physical areas of life. In his newest book, “Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity” Emmons noted, “Gratitude is good medicine.”

Follow these 4 simple and enjoyable steps and you’ll fill up with appreciativeness, gratefulness and thankfulness—and enjoy all of the health benefits this medicinal mental supplement offers.

1. Watch your self-chatter. It’s the king of gratitude building. It takes mindfulness and awareness. Are you focusing on what’s good in your daily life, or are you rigidly hanging yourself up on what’s wrong? Do you focus on the wrong turn you made, or do you focus on the right one you finally made? Do you focus on the thorns on your rose bush or the roses on your thorn bush? Do you see your child, boss, spouse as cranky and unbearable, or simply tired and needing some rest?

2. The queen of this medicine, for many, is keeping a gratitude journal. You do this by simply answering this question every morning, “what may go right today,” and in the evening, “what did go right today?” Identify a few things in your mind morning and night, and you have taken a full dose of gratitude. 

3. When’s the last time you wrote a thank you note? When’s the last time you went out of your way to say thank you to another person? When’s the last time you paused to really think about others have done for you? Try taking a few seconds to think of the people who have helped you, cared for you and have always wanted what was best for you. Feel better already, right?

4. Meditate to promote forgiveness and appreciate others, thereby freeing you from negativity. What that other person did TO you will somehow turn out being FOR you. Can you think? Be grateful for the good you can contemplate. Can you see? Be grateful for the beauty that you can see. Can you hear? Be grateful for the soothing sounds of life that you can hear.  Get it?

What would an article from me be without a handy, memorable acronym to help you focus on becoming GRATEFUL?

Good – what’s Good about your daily life, “regardless” of what you have or not?

Recognize – what can go right?

Appreciative – are you Appreciative of what you have…and don’t have?

Thankful – who have you sincerely Thanked today?

Emotional – can you express Emotion in a positive manner?

Fulfilled – you are either Fulfilled or on the way to being Fulfilled…never unFulfilled

Understanding – do you have the lens to Understand that whatever happens always happens for the good?

Liked – do you look for what you can Like in every person and situation you come across?

There you have it…no pharmacy, no gym, no gurus, no robes or incense. Simply changing your mindset, filling yourself up with a thank you, promotes your health. Gratitude is indeed a genuinely side-effect free medicinal mental supplement for your physical and emotional wellbeing.

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