We’ve just stepped into the holiday season, November is officially upon us. Most parts of the US are about to participate in setting our clocks back one hour. Up side: extra hour of sleep Saturday night. Down side: it is going to get dark really, really early. This generally leads to people eating more comfort foods, avoiding the gym, and well complaining. November also starts the bustle of expectations in the holiday season. It is often a season with lots of excitement, expectation but can also be marked by a tinge of sadness, anxiety and depression. I would like to take a moment and discuss something that has actually scientifically been proven to help lift the spirits, and it is actually built right into the next holiday: Thanks giving. Expressing your gratitude, research (religion and common sense) all prove that being thankful can lighten the heart and help one become happier.
The word gratitude is from a Latin word gratia, which means: grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Thankfulness or gratitude requires recognizing a source of goodness that lies outside of one self. Perhaps you are thankful for the meal your mother prepared or the sweet trinket your friend sent you. Perhaps you are thankful for the time to surround yourself with loved ones and yummy food.
RESEARCH ON THE TOPIC
Two psychologies, one from UC Davis and another from University of Miami have done studies on gratitude. In one study they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week that would focus on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were thankful for that had occurded during that week. The second group wrote about daily irritations or things that displeased them, and a third wrote about events that had affected them (no emphasis given on positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also reported less visits to physicians than those who were focused on irritants.
There was another study which compared those who wrote about childhood memories with those who were instead told to write a letter of gratitude to someone that had never been properly thanked for their kindness. Participants who were charged with writing the letter exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores.
Another study showed how gratitude can improve relationships. A study analyzed communication between couples. Couples who regularly expressed gratitude towards one another reported feeling more positive toward their partner and even more comfortable sharing concerns regarding their relationship.
You see this in business too, effective managers know how to let their team know how well they are doing and cultivate positive feelings toward each other.
I bring this up especially in this season, but because I know what the Bible says too! A merry heart doeth good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones. When we approach changing seasons, holidays, and busy times of the year it will be very helpful to stop and remember how much we have to be thankful for. You may be surprised to see how thankfulness begets more thankfulness in yourself and in those around you.
When you approach your food, consider stopping to pray or reflect before eating. Think about how eating each bite gives your body what it needs to turn over cells, for body processes to work, for your heart to pump blood and oxygen throughout your body. If you build a pattern of doing this, you will find it’s harder to think about a Big Mac making your body strong, and it may even help you make more beneficial food choices. If you don't feel like you have a habit of being thankful, just start thinking more thankfully, you will be surprised how it becomes contagious!
Keep it positive people, keep it thankful, keep it healthy!
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
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