'Stay grateful and gracious'.
As life tips go that's probably not one you'd readily associate with a high-powered business woman who's a mover and shaker in A-list celebrity circles. Yet it's one of 'the key pieces of advice' that fashionista-to-the-stars Rachel Zoe said she would 'drive home to my younger self' if she was able to turn back time and do so. It was, she toldLinkedIn, something she regretted not having known at the start of her career.
Sincere thankfulness is a good idea at any time of the year. But if you are considering making a New Year's resolution, how about committing yourself to a heartfelt gratitude attitude? Being grateful tends to make us happier, it tends to make us better company for others and it comes with a wellbeing bonus to boot. Scientists are accumulating considerable evidence that verifies what spiritual thinkers have long affirmed: 'a grateful heart' (to quote a favourite hymn) can be beneficial to our health.
Writing in WebMD, health writer Elizabeth Heubeck said:
'Throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have extolled gratitude as a virtue integral to health and well-being. Now, through a recent movement called positive psychology, mental health professionals are taking a close look at how virtues such as gratitude can benefit our health. And they're reaping some promising results.'
Some of these 'promising results' are featured in an article entitled 'Science and research on gratitude' by Drs. Blair and Rita Justice, from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
For example, there was a study in which people in three different groups were asked to record their thoughts about each day. One group was asked to record what they were grateful for, another what had hassled them, and the third weren't given guidance either way. At the end of 10 weeks:
- Participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were 25 percent more optimistic about the future than participants given either of the control conditions.
- They had fewer symptoms of physical illness than the other two groups.
- The gratitude group exercised 1.5 hours more than the hassled group.
Furthermore, many of my friends have found that even a glimpse of gratitude can start to turn their life around. That happened to one who was suffering from suicidal depression. In a moment of spiritual clarity she saw a profound need to start appreciating the everyday things in life. As she did so, she slowly but surely began to find even more significant things to be grateful for. Finally, the permanent lifting of the depression itself became yet another reason for her heartfelt appreciation.
My friend was, under such trying circumstances, effectively road-testing the therapeutic value of unconditional thanks. She credits doing so with changing her character and restoring her health.
Experiences such as that vindicate, at the personal level, those research findings suggesting gratitude can be an investment in our wellbeing. It's also an example of something discerned by some of those spiritual thinkers alluded to above, namely that the practical benefits of nurturing spiritual qualities like gratitude are not just confined to easing minor problems. Rather, they attest to an underlying divine principle that can be remedial at all states and stages of a problem.
That was certainly the conclusion of one woman when her own health-related search for deeper answers led her to a systematic approach to Christian healing that she called Christian Science. From the depth of her experience, Mary Baker Eddy wrote: 'Under affliction in the very depths, stop and contemplate what you have to be grateful for."
That might seem counterintuitive when things aren't going well. Surely we need relief from the problem before we feel, and express, gratitude?
Not so, if ingratitude is itself a mental masking of things we'd otherwise be gratefully aware of. British psychologist, author, and broadcaster Dr Robert Holden recommends making gratitude a practice in order to reveal what we might be missing.
'Before we practise gratitude, we are in the dark and there appears very little to be grateful for,' he writes in Hello Happiness, "But once we begin to practise gratitude, a new light dawns, sometimes a brilliant light, a light as bright as heaven itself.'
The act of quietly, humbly giving thanks is a daily discipline anyone can adopt. Putting it into practice is just a changed thought away. So if you aren't already trying to 'stay grateful and gracious', crossing into 2014 offers a good opportunity to resolve to take up the practice of these and other unselfish, yet self-benefiting, spiritual qualities.
If you do, you might just find it's not only your family and friends, but also your mind and body, which have a happier New Year as a result.