The One Little Habit for Better Health

By on December 1, 2012

Completely You: Health

By Jenna McCarthy for Completely You

The holidays should be merry and magical — but the added pressure to shop, cook, wrap and entertain can leave you feeling more frazzled than festive. Research shows that any time of the year, one of the fastest and easiest ways to fight feelings of stress is to stop and give thanks.

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Why Gratitude Keeps You Healthy

“Gratitude is the foundation of health and happiness,” explains Christine Carter, Ph.D., sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. According to Carter, who has also written Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents and teaches an online happiness class specifically for parents, consciously choosing to focus on the positive can combat the release of stress hormones that compromise our immune systems and cause inflammation and disease. In one study, participants who kept gratitude journals exercised more, felt better about their lives and were more optimistic about the future than those who didn’t document their good fortune. Regularly expressing appreciation also has been shown to positively impact sleep quality, mood, energy levels and help people achieve their goals.

But ironically, the better you are doing in life, the harder it might be to be grateful. Carter points out that feelings of gratitude seem to arise most naturally in conditions of scarcity. She says, for example, “ You don’t find a lot of picky eaters among people without enough food. That means when we’re not operating in a scarce environment, gratitude needs to be deliberately cultivated.”

How to Feel More Gratitude

So how can you feel more gratitude yourself? “Gratitude practice” doesn’t have to be laborious or time-consuming. Each night before sleep, try taking 30 seconds to remind yourself of three things for which you’re thankful. Or, encourage family members to list a few things for which they are grateful during dinner. This takes less than five minutes and gives everyone a healthy mood boost. For a fun holiday craft idea, Carter suggests cutting out circles of pretty paper and asking family members, friends and visitors to write something they are thankful for on each piece. Then, simply string the pieces together to make a “gratitude garland”. Now that’s a meaningful way to deck the halls.

What are you grateful for? Talk about it below or tweet us @CompletelyYou

Jenna McCarthy is an internationally published writer, former radio personality and the author of five books, including the recently-released If It Was Easy They’d Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon. Her work has appeared in more than 50 magazines, dozens of sites and several anthologies, including the popular Chicken Soup series. She is a frequent contributor to Completely You.

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The One Little Habit for Better Health