The Health of Gratitude

good health

good healthLast week, I received an email from a very grateful grandmother who sent word of her grandson’s acceptance into college.  We had worked with her then 16 year-old grandson as we supported and guided him and his family through open heart surgery. Her hand-penned words, “This would not have been possible without Guardian Nurses” humbled me and as I forwarded her thanks electronically to our team of nurse advocates, I felt grateful not only that she let us know the good news, but also that we were able to have such a positive impact on his future.

In celebration of Thanksgiving Day, let’s talk about the health of gratitude. With thanks to Anthony, Linda, Christina, and Junior, who allowed us to enter their world at a particularly difficult time and who have now become part of the Guardian Nurses family.

Can a grateful heart enhance your health? A growing body of research—including Oprah Winfrey— says, “Yes.” Gratitude, as a conscious practice, offers a whole host of health benefits.

Gratitude promotes physical and emotional well-being, improves one’s ability to cope with stress and bolsters positive interaction with others. Furthermore, research shows grateful individuals report having more energy and less physical complaints than their non-grateful counterparts.

Positive emotions enhance heart health by interrupting the stress response caused by negative emotions. In short, the practice of gratitude offers a method for a more harmonious life.

So, how do we choose gratitude? And, is it ok to “fake it”? Sure, go ahead.  Our emotions follow our thoughts; we can “act as if” we feel gratitude by concentrating our thoughts on things we are truly grateful for. In time, the real feeling of gratitude will follow. As days turn into months, a shift in our thinking will occur, leaving us more content because we are focusing on the goodness in our life. And, typically, what we focus on becomes our reality. 

Here are a few tips to get started:

Set aside a little bit of time each day. If you’re a morning person, give yourself 5 minutes after you get dressed to focus on gratitude. Night time works well for some – a few minutes at the end of the day to think about gratitude. Any time of day will do, just try to keep it consistent.

Get a small notebook to record your gratitude thoughts. Writing your thoughts down helps them to stick. Writing also is a reflective activity; we have to think about it.

Make a short list (3 – 5 items) of things you are grateful for. Little things count – a lot. It can be something as every day as “I’m grateful for warm gloves,” or “I’m grateful for my glass of hot cocoa with marshmallows,” or “I’m grateful for knowing the sun is shining above these gray winter clouds.”

The results of one study done on keepers of gratitude journals indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. The researchers also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another.

So, in a way, I guess my mom was ahead of her time when she would say to me “Count your blessings.”  She just forgot to mention the journaling part.  Once again….sigh…my mom was right.  Happy Thanksgiving!! May you enjoy good health and gratitude!


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About Betty Long, RN

As a registered nurse working in greater Philadelphia-area hospitals over the past 27 years, Betty Long’s experiences as a nurse and manager proved to her that maneuvering through today’s healthcare system can be daunting, especially when you don’t have someone to help you navigate the system. Care decisions, insurance decisions and coordination of treatment services can overwhelm even the savviest consumer. Those experiences, and other more personal experiences, led Long to launch Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates in October 2003. Guardian Nurses provides advocacy services for clients, both private and corporate, all over the United States. The driving mission for its nurse advocates is simple: to act as representatives and advocate for their patients. And since nurse advocates work independently of hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and government agencies, they can be a strong voice for patients in all areas of the healthcare system. Nurse advocates understand healthcare issues from the viewpoint of caring for the patient and of the medical professionals trying to provide care. Nationally, Long’s advocacy work has been featured on The Dr Oz Show and National Public Radio’s Marketplace and Marketplace Money shows and various print publications.

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