The healing power of gratitude in our lives

‘Tis the season when we’re reminded to count our blessings and help those in need, however there are many benefits to embracing an “attitude of gratitude” all year long that you must consider. Reminding yourself to be thankful for the things that you have in life rather than focusing on what you don’t have, can change your life profoundly.

In fact, according to Robert Emmons, PhD. at the University of California, there are many physical health, physiological well-being, and relationship benefits of practicing gratitude. Dr. Emmons has been studying the effects of gratitude for more than 10 years, working with more than 1,000 people ages 8 to 80, and found some of the effects of practicing gratitude to include: stronger immune system, less aches and pains, lower blood pressure, higher levels of positive emotions, happiness and optimism, more generosity, forgiveness, and people also were more outgoing.

According to Emmons, practicing gratitude also can help us in celebrating the present moment, blocking negative emotions, resisting stress and feeling a higher sense of worth. So, what can you do to recognize and express your gratitude?

Strategies to begin practicing gratitude include:

-Start a gratitude journal and record those things that you are grateful for. It will likely take just a few minutes each day to jot down things like spending time with loved ones, receiving a special letter or a phone call, family, great job, etc. Keep a notebook by your bed and write for a few minutes each morning or at night before you go to sleep to reflect on the day.

-Think about life according to the “George Bailey Effect” ?-referencing the character George Bailey from the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Choose something that is special to you, either a person, place, or event that is meaningful to you and write about how your life would be different without that special person, place, or event. This will help you cultivate a deeper appreciation for that which you do have in life, and take the focus off of what you don’t have.

-Slow down this holiday season and do only what you really want to do. Often times we do things out of obligation and then don’t enjoy ourselves while doing them. Enjoy yourself, be grateful for the time you can spend with friends and loved ones, and learn that it’s OK to say no, you don’t even have to give an explanation.

-Paying it forward is another way to express our appreciation for all of the blessings bestowed upon us. If someone does something nice for you, do something nice for someone else that may be in need. You also can take part in a random act of kindness and do something nice for someone just because.

-Finally, change your self talk into grateful thinking (Psychology Today). Self talk is “the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through our heads every day” (Mayo Clinic 2011). For many of us, our self talk focuses on negative thoughts and messages. It is important to turn off those negative thoughts and tune in to more positive ones. We can do that by reframing our thoughts. Start by thinking about situations differently and focus on the positive and all that we have to be grateful for. Think of the glass as half full rather than half empty. Then, focus on the things that you can change, rather than on the things you can’t.

Practicing gratitude can make you happier, improve your health, well-being, and even your relationships. So, practice gratitude, be happy, and in turn, be healthy.

For more information, call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. People can e-mail HealthLink at, visit its website at, or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.