By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
There's one holiday we Americans do that is absolutely brilliant -- Thanksgiving. Okay, some may quibble about the origins of the day, noting that for many native Indians maybe the survival of the Pilgrims that cold winter was not such a great blessing in the long-term. But that would miss what I think is the true meaning of the day, which is to give thanks for all our blessings we have received over the past year.
How brilliant! Taking a day to say thank you Universe is such a wise and evolved thing to do. For it turns out that the emotion of feeling gratitude actually is one of the most powerful and beneficial emotions for your mental and physical health.
What is gratitude? The word comes from the Latin word "gratia", which means favor, and the word "gratus" which means pleasing.
Scientists define gratitude either as worldly gratitude, which relates to being thankful that someone has done something for you that they didn't have to do or spiritual gratitude, which they call "transcendental". I think of worldy gratitude as one-on-one.
The second type of gratitude, transcendental gratitude, was defined in a 1989 address by F.J. Streng at the Dallas,TX Center for World Thanksgiving as occurring when "people recognize that they are connected to each other in a mysterious and miraculous way that is not fully determined by physical forces, but is part of a wider, or transcendent context."
Gratitude Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Gratitude is linked with lower diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number), according to Dr. Robert Emmons of UCLA. The reasons for this are not yet known but scientists believe that gratitude activates the brain's relaxation and calming reflexes.
Gratitude Lowers Risk of Depression
In 2015, Dr. Emmons and Dr. Robin Stern of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University completed a study of gratitude as a psychological therapeutic intervention. They discovered that depressed patients could recover if they kept a journal writing down things they were grateful for.
The act of writing apparently works better for some reason than simply thinking the thoughts of gratitude. Here are some actual patients notes on how they felt the gratitude journal helped them:
Incorporate Gratitude Practice in Your Life
When I was younger, we were taught to say Grace before we ate anything, whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner or even just a snack. We said "thank the Lord for the food that we are about to receive for the nourishment of our bodies for Christ sake. Amen"
As I got older, I stopped saying my Grace before eating and, that was a mistake that I have now corrected.
Saying "thank you" to the Universe before eating actually slows you down. It makes you more aware of what you are eating. It reminds you of the real purpose of eating, which is to nourish your body, rather than to distract you from boredom or stuff down feelings of emptiness or accompany excitement as you watch a movie or ball game.
Saying "thank you" also just makes you calmer before eating and, guess what, I slowed down and ate a little bit less. And I also lost weight, about 3 pounds the first two months that I started saying grace again and.
You can find other ways to add gratitude to your day. On a slip of paper, write down 5 things that you are grateful for before you head out to face the world each day. It will raise the chances of having a breakthrough, great day.
And if you make it back home safe and sound, be grateful for that too.
There is a growing body of science that has discovered that gratitude is the missing element, the secret sauce, to a healthy and happy existence.
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