For those of us in the United States, Thanksgiving is a day of giving thanks, of counting our blessings, of expressing gratitude, of remembering how far we’ve come. But even if you live elsewhere, I invite you to give thanks not just on one day, but every day.
It’s no accident that I put Gratitude in the healing bubble of the wellness model I introduced in my first TEDx talk and will be teaching further in my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine. Along with Love, Pleasure, and Service, Gratitude is essential to living a whole, balanced, optimally healthy life.
The Science of Gratitude
In her book The How Of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares that the happiest people were not the richest, most beautiful, or most successful. Instead, as it turns out, the golden ticket to happiness lies not so much in changing our natural tendencies or even our life circumstances, but in adopting certain behaviors that have been scientifically proven to increase happiness. In her study, happy people shared similar traits.
They devoted a lot of time to nurturing their relationships with family and friends, they were first to lend a helping hand, practiced optimism when imagining their futures, savored life’s pleasures and made efforts to try to live in the moment, exercised frequently, were deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions, and showed poise and strength when facing life’s inevitable challenges. She also found that you can be happier by avoiding over-thinking, cutting yourself loose from ruminating thoughts, eliminating social comparisons, taking action to solve problems right when they arise, seeking meaning amidst stress, loss or trauma, practicing forgiveness, engaging in activities that get you “in the flow,” smiling more, and making efforts to take care of your body.
But perhaps the single most potent factor affecting how happy you are – and the one most easy to change – is how much you make gratitude a practice.
As described in his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman conducted a study and taught a single happiness-inducing strategy to a group of severely depressed individuals. Although these people were so abysmally depressed they could barely climb out of bed, they were instructed to do one simple task every day: go to a website and write down three good things that happened to them that day. Within 15 days, their depression improved from “severely depressed” to “mildly to moderately depressed.” 94% of them reported feeling better!
Why Gratitude Is Essential
The science is clear – and we can all agree that gratitude is important – but have you ever really thought about why? As my friend Mama Gena so colorfully says, “Unexpressed blessings turn to s#!t.”
Happy, wholly healthy people must dance on the edge of the fine line between getting clear on what they desire and being grateful for what they already have. If you’re out of balance, on one side of the fine line is the person who doesn’t even know what she wants when you ask her what she desires. She’s so out of touch with her Inner Pilot Light that she doesn’t even allow herself to dream. And we all know that if you can’t dream it, you can’t do it. Desire is critical, and it can lead you straight to paradise.
But desire without gratitude leads to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and a chronic sense of discontent that fuels the need to keep striving for more, more, more. And when you’re living your life more like a sperm and less like an egg, you’re bound to wind up not only unhappy, but outright sick.
How To Be More Grateful
If you wait until Thanksgiving every year to express gratitude, you’re missing 364 other healing opportunities. So instead, make gratitude a practice.
Four years ago, I took a workshop for physicians with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, who taught us to take time at the end of every day to answer three questions in a journal. It’s been four years and I didn’t take notes, so I may butcher the exact questions, but my memory of them is this:
- What surprised me today?
- What am I grateful for today?
- What touched my heart today?
Rachel swears that these three questions will change your life, and in my own practice, I found that to be true.
A Gratitude Practice
So please, start here. Answer these three questions in the comments below and I invite you to spend the next 30 days answering those three questions at the end of every day. See if it changes your life like it changed mine.
What surprised me today is that I had a meltdown when I found out I was scheduled to be out of town on the day of my daughter’s ballet recital and am unable to be there to support her, and when I came to her crying, my precocious 6 year old wrapped her arms around me, wiped my tears, told me she’d have Matt video it and send it to me right away, and gave me her blessing to miss what she’s been practicing for all year. I went from feeling like the worst mother on the planet to feeling like the most blessed mother on the planet.
What I’m grateful for today is that somehow, my daughter chose me to be her Mama and I can’t believe my good fortune sometimes. I’m also grateful for my unconditionally loving husband and for my cousin Becca and her family, who I’m spending the holiday with. I’m also super grateful to be interviewing the most amazing people who applied for my mentoring program next week. I’m in awe. I have the best job in the world.
What touched my heart is a doctor who sent me an email in response to my post A Vision To Heal Health Care, expressing gratitude and telling me I had healed him, so he could help heal others.
Even just writing this down leaves me feeling expansive and blessed and immensely grateful for my life. Now it’s your turn.
Share your gratitude, my dear. And never forget how grateful I am that you are here, reading what I write.
Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.