Submitted Dr. Sheree Sharpe, Kaiser Permanente Steele Street Medical Center
The approaching holiday season presents a perfect opportunity for us to reflect on the value and positive impact our family members, friends and co-workers have had on our lives.
Gratitude is simply being appreciative of what is meaningful in our lives; being thankful. Whether it’s a friend’s willingness to chip in and care for the kids, or a loved one who remembers to send you a card, or a neighbor noticing a package on your porch, or someone just simply saying “thank you, I appreciate you.” And now medical research has established a correlation between our ability to thrive and expressing our gratitude to our loved ones and our community.
Studies have shown that when we are grateful, our brain lets go of toxic emotions and allows the release of serotonin and dopamine in our brains that are substances that make us feel happy. Gratitude also results in the reduction of the stress hormone, cortisol. This further creates a positive mindset leading to better quality sleep, decreased anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem and optimism, improved immune function, as well as strengthening relationships, thus resulting in fewer doctor visits.
Grateful people also report fewer aches and pains and recover faster. Multiple studies have also shown that gratitude plays a role in helping people overcome traumatic and difficult events in their lives. A grateful mindset gives us pause resulting in decrease anger and tension, thus allowing our bodies to relax and heal.
Practicing gratitude daily will have the greatest impact on well-being. It can be as easy as thinking about what you’re thankful for. Some people keep a gratitude journal, and each day they write down three things they’re grateful for. When someone has a positive impact on your life, it is important to let them know either by writing a thank you letter or note, calling, texting, or telling them in person. Tell them the specific ways they helped you, and how that made you feel. Share compliments and kind words with others.
Living a life of gratitude as a family impacts the entire community, particularly children. When children practice gratitude, studies show they can better manage emotions, focus, and self-regulate. It also fosters a focus on community and giving back that can have lifelong impacts. Volunteering and giving back to others are great ways to start. Local food banks and shelters are always happy to have helpers of all ages. Encourage children to rake a neighbor’s yard, cook and deliver baked goods to a fire station, or write a card for service members overseas. Many children also divide their allowances into save, spend, and share jars that allow them to donate to help others. Kids feel great when they give back. As we go about our busy lives, we should always seize every opportunity to be grateful, as this will improve our well-being and allow us to thrive.