(This post was first written 11/30/15 and has been revised.)
It’s Thanksgiving week. As I do every year, I wanted to focus a little bit on thankfulness—also known as gratitude—and its surprising benefits for our physical body.
Knowing this, of course, gives us great motivation to be thankful all year long, and not limit it to one week a year!
What Thankful People are Like
Here are some of the health benefits researchers have linked to a habit of thankfulness:
- Thankful people tend to take better care of themselves overall. Things like exercise, a healthy diet and good choices come easier.
- Stress—responsible for up to 90% of physical ailments that send us to the doctor—is eased by habitual thankfulness.
- Thankfulness is directly related to optimism, which has been found to boost your immune system.
- Thankfulness has been linked to better sleep, which in turn is necessary for good health.
- Thankful people are less likely to turn to substance abuse with cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.
- Thankful people tend to have better cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
And one of the most powerful things about thankfulness? It’s not genetic, it’s a choice. We can choose thankfulness every day. Our body will be grateful when we do!
How Our Mind, Brain & Body Work Together
Why does it make such a difference?
My friend Brittany once gave me a set of cd lectures by South African neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf. Dr. Leaf has spent several decades studying the connection between our mind and our brain.
It turns out that how we use our mind—our thoughts and choices—profoundly affects the actual physical structure of our brain at the cellular level.
It’s so cool!
Here are some things she says:
- “Every thought that you think is actually a physical reality in your brain…Your thoughts occupy mental real estate.”
- “What science has proven and scripture has already said is that your mind changes your brain…your mind changes your body…and your mind is instrumental in developing your spirit.”
- “You are designed with a powerful mind to think and to choose. As you are thinking and choosing, you influence the body and you influence the spirit.”
- “Whatever you are choosing with your mind will become a physical reality inside your body, and you are either building life or death in your body through the choices that you make.”
- “The brain takes on the physical structure of what the mind dictates.”
The neurons in our brain literally change and grow depending on whether our thoughts are life-giving or toxic. Dr. Leaf compares the results to either a flourishing, green tree or a dead tree. Literally.
Is it any wonder God teaches us through His word to rejoice and give thanks? It’s not for His benefit, it’s for our benefit!
Where to Start on Your Journey of Thankfulness
If you haven’t yet developed a thankfulness habit, it’s never too late to start. Simply be thankful for something today. Be thankful for something else tomorrow. Find a few things each day to be thankful for.
Maybe start a list and add 2-3 items each day that you’re thankful for. Keep it somewhere you can read often. If you can’t think of anything, ask the Lord to show you.
Sometimes it takes a little practice and creativity to find a nugget of thankfulness is less-than-glorious circumstances. But it can be done. And you’ll reap the whole-health benefits of it.
- “Boost Your Health with a Dose of Gratitude” WebMD.com
- “Why Gratitude isn’t Just for Thanksgiving” time.com
- “Thanksgiving Science: Why Gratitude is Good for You” livescience.com
- Dr. Caroline Leaf: “Controlling Your Toxic Thoughts” (the original article isn’t there, but this gives links to her other related content)
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Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.