Gratitude Leads To All Things Great

By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

The holiday season often is a time spent expressing gratitude. The season of thanks begins this week as families and friends gather together around the Thanksgiving table to express gratitude. They often cite blessings such as strong familial relationships, good friends, jobs, homes and a sumptuous meal. Many people continue their focus on gratitude through December as part of celebrating the deep traditions of their religious faiths and cultures.

The regular practice of gratitude easily can extend beyond the holiday season and arguably is one that offers an immense return on the minimal time investment that it takes to maintain this practice throughout the year. For instance, researchers link a regular practice of gratitude to numerous emotional health outcomes, including greater happiness, more optimism, a greater appreciation of good experiences and the creation of strong bonds with others. This practice even boosts physical health, including fostering a stronger immune system and lowering blood pressure.

Interestingly, gratitude may come more naturally for some people. In a recent New York Times opinion column, Arthur C. Brooks points to research that indicates a genetic variation is associated with an individual’s ability to feel deeply grateful. However, we can also mindfully cultivate gratitude even if we don’t have a genetic predisposition toward thankfulness.

Developing a Gratitude Practice

Experts suggest a number of strategies that can help foster gratitude. These include:

– Meditation focused on gratitude. Jack Kornfield suggests focusing a meditation practice on gratitude in order to acknowledge the blessings and good fortune in our lives. He encourages individuals to focus their meditation on feeling how “year after year you have cared for your own life” and then think about the other parts of the world –a person, plant, animal or insect — that have enhanced your life. Kornfield notes that an increased focus on gratitude is linked to increased joy and an open heart.

– Write regular thank-you notes. Taking time to write detailed thank-you notes to acknowledge people who make a difference in your life can have a significant impact on happiness levels a month later. Furthermore, the potential health benefits expand if you deliver the letter in person and read it to the recipient. Not surprisingly, sending a thank-you note also can improve and deepen your relationship because the recipient understands his or her value to you.  

– Think about all that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. The Greater Good Science Center recommends spending 5-10 minutes each evening describing three positive things for the day as well as why you think they happened. Researchers have found that doing this exercise for one week leads to greater happiness during the following six months.

– Keep a gratitude journal. Writing in a journal about what you appreciate on a regular basis also can have a significant effect on your quality of life. These entries can include past events as well as anticipation of future blessings.

To achieve long-term health benefits from a gratitude practice, individuals need to make these efforts more than a seasonal occurrence. Incorporating different strategies can help keep your gratitude practice feeling fresh throughout the year – and can make you grateful for the benefits it brings to your life.

Sources for This Blog:

Braines, J. (2015). Four Great Gratitude Strategies. Greater Good Science Center, University of California Berkley.

Brooks, A. C. (2015). Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier. New York Times.

Greater Good Science Center. (ND). Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude. University of California Berkley.

Harvard Mental Health Letter. (2011). In Praise of Gratitude.

Kornfield, J. (2014). Meditation on Gratitude and Joy.

Age – It Matters What You Think!

By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

Western culture often doesn’t paint a pleasant picture of aging. Advertisements focus on incontinence, sexual dysfunction and plastic surgery while actresses are considered “over the hill” by the time they reach their 40s. And when older adults are featured in television shows or movies, their characters usually are used for some level of comic relief through showcasing their physical or mental decline.

Those cultural norms may have an even more devastating effect than we realize since researchers increasingly are finding that our views of aging influence how we physically and mentally age. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that noted that if we think of aging as a time of decline, our health will follow suit. However, our bodies will respond with vigor if we believe that aging offers new adventures and opportunities to grow. In her recent book, “Goddesses Never Age,” Dr. Christiane Northrup noted that studies show that our perceptions of aging can have a greater effect on our longevity than low cholesterol, low blood pressure, low body mass index and not smoking.

So what are some of the ways you can counter aging? Here are three easy ways to fight this battle:

– Be aware of cultural messages about aging. Dr. Northrup recommends identifying and closing all cultural portals that disparage aging in order to embrace new ways to remain ageless. Her advice ranges from rejecting a merchant’s senior discount to reviewing one’s self-talk in order to root out disparaging thoughts and comments about aging.

– Embrace meditation and mindfulness. A blog by Seth Segall and David S. Black for the American Society on Aging points to studies indicating meditation and mindfulness affect how people age. For instance, a mindful practice is proven to aid people suffering from pain or depression; this practice also improves brain and immune system function. Furthermore, meditation reduces age-related decline in several parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, gray matter and white matter. Mindfulness and meditation also has been linked to longer telomeres, which are segments at the end of chromosomes that become shorter with age and chronic stress. Scientists use these telomeres as biomarkers for cellular aging. The best news is that researchers now believe that meditation may not only slow the aging process, but even be able to reverse these declines at both the neurological and chromosomal level.

– Focus on balance. Many people find they lose their sense of balance as they age. One of the reasons is an impaired vestibular system. To counter this issue, Dr. Northrup recommends regularly standing on one leg while closing your eyes, and then repeating this exercise on the other leg. Practices such as tai chi, Qigong and yoga also can enhance balance.

While aging is a natural part of life, much of what we experience is based on our own state of mind. By changing our mental patterns and embracing a few new habits, we can take charge of how we age and make strides toward becoming ageless.

Primary Resources:

Northrup, C. (2015). Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. Hay House.

Segall, S. & Black, D. S. (2014). Can Meditation Slow the Aging Process? American Society on Aging.

Tergesen, A. (2015). To Age Well, Change How You Feel About Aging. The Wall Street Journal.