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Does Gratitude Help You Live Longer?

Does Gratitude Help You LIve Longer?, gratitude and middle age, gratitude and longevity
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BY STEVE WINSTON

November is a great month to talk about gratitude. Why? It’s Thanksgiving time! The one holiday that actually celebrates the science of gratitude.

Too bad we don’t practice it more – as opposed to talking about practicing it more – the other 364 days of the year. Because experts ranging from physicians to psychiatrists are starting to believe the benefits are substantial, among them better overall health, deeper sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life, and nicer behavior toward others. In addition, studies show that people who are grateful for the blessings in their lives are less likely to turn aggressive or violent, even under extreme stress.

“I’m not a scientist, and I can’t prove it,” says Alice Reiter Feld, a well-known South Florida Elder Law attorney. “I can only cite anecdotal evidence. But I see it time and time again in my practice. Some people are happy with life, and grateful for whatever they’ve been given – even if it’s relatively modest. Others seem like nothing can satisfy them, and that nothing is enough. In my experience, people who nurse an ‘attitude of gratitude’ seem to live longer, to stay healthier, and to be happier. And they seem to handle stress much better.”

Dr. Robert A Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, has researched gratitude for years. He says one of the best things you can do for yourself is keep a journal, and mark down – each day – all the things you’re grateful for in life. The end result is generally that the writer begins to realize that he has a lot more to be thankful for than he thought. And journaling generally results in generating a deeper satisfaction – and, often, downright happiness – with life.

Dr. Emmons’ advice for falling asleep, and staying sleep, is a bit more to-the-point.

“Count blessings, not sheep,” he’s said. 

Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky, of the University of California, Riverside, advises people to practice gratitude with their families this Thanksgiving … no matter how dysfunctional the family. How? By listening. By complimenting. By admiring. And by saying “please” and “thank you.”

So, is there scientific evidence that an attitude of gratitude can help you live longer? Well, no one’s come up with irrefutable proof yet. But think about it. Satisfied, grateful people produce more endorphins (hormones that generate feelings of well-being and happiness), and studies have shown that they often have lower blood pressure, cardiac risk, stroke risk, heartbeat, and a host of other physical and emotional ills. And if your blood pressure, cardiac risk, stroke risk, and heartbeat are lower … you don’t have to be a doctor to know that you’ve got a pretty good chance of living longer!

“One of the great things about gratitude,” Alice Reiter Feld says, “is that it’s often a choice. Unless there’s something really dreadful going on in your life – illness, divorce, death, etc. – you can probably think of a number of reasons to be grateful. I often see clients who are depressed about getting older. And I tell them that getting older sure beats the alternative! Often, it’s the way we choose to look at things. In most cases that I see, we have the ability – and the option – to choose whatever attitude we’d like to carry around with us. So, especially in view of the health and psychological benefits, why not choose a positive one?”

Try it this Thanksgiving. When you sit down at the table, take a minute to count your blessings. You may be very pleasantly surprised.

And you may even live longer, to see a lot more Thanksgivings!

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