The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gratitude pays heath dividend

A growing number of studies show that if you express gratitude, you focus on what you have instead of what you lack. "It supports that old phrase that it's better to give than to receive," says psychiatrist Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. "People tend to feel better when they're being generous, when they're working toward the betterment of the world, doing volunteer work, etc. Gratitude is part of that."

Scientists now recognize that gratitude is associated with greater happiness. Here is how you can exercise your brain's thank you muscle:

Say thank you, even if it doesn't come naturally to you. "Even if you're faking it, what happens is you see a positive response from people, and that reinforces the behavior," says Miller.

Practice makes perfect. Say thank you regularly to get into the habit of being "emotionally generous," says Miller. "If we can practice the piano, we can practice things like gratitude." 

Make your kids write thank you notes. "It's a good thing to do," says Miller. 

People's happiness scores skyrocketed when University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman asked them to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who hadn't been properly thanked for his kindness. 

Look for the positive. "Keep your eyes open for what's awesome out there," says Miller. "There's plenty that is." 

Count your blessings – and write them in a journal. Pick a number to shoot for – say, five. 

Acknowledge what's good in your life instead of dwelling on what's bad. "Mindful of these positives, there's less opportunity for negativity to intrude without consideration," says psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "You can keep your buoyancy and keep your head comfortably above the waterline when negatives try to pull you down."

Do a cost analysis. The price is right: saying "thank you" doesn't cost a dime. Yet it brings a big return on investment in the form of greater health and happiness.