by Casey Gueren
Ultimately, you’re more likely to stick to your health goals when you’re feeling positive (since stress makes most people want to snuggle up to a bag of Doritos).
If you’re only thankful around turkey and pumpkin pie, you may want to start counting your blessings. People who feel the most grateful are also the healthiest, according to a recent article published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at a diverse sample of 962 Swiss adults ranging in age from 19 to 84 years old. Through a series of questionnaires, they found that gratitude was significantly related to physical health, even when controlling for age and other personality traits.
It may seem like a big jump from “thank you” to staying fit, but the researchers actually found three links that explain the relationship: Psychological health, healthy activities, and a willingness to seek help for medical concerns. “We know that if you’re psychologically healthy that has an effect on the physical,” says Patrick Hill, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and coauthor of the study. “And the other links came from the idea that dispositional traits influence our behavior.”
Ultimately, you’re more likely to stick to your health goals when you’re feeling positive (since stress makes most people want to snuggle up to a bag of Doritos). “If you feel like every day is a blessing, you’ll want to live a healthier lifestyle more than someone who isn’t thankful for anything,” says Hill.
And if being appreciative can help you stay in shape during the season of holiday parties and starchy hors d’oeuvres, it’s time to get grateful, stat. Here are a few ways to foster your positive outlook:
Leave yourself notes. Research shows that writing what you’re thankful for can increase feelings of gratitude, says Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Baylor University. Force yourself to jot down a few positive statements and stick them on your mirror. This way, you’re both actively thinking positive and passively being reminded to keep it up.
Give back. “Volunteering is proven to boost your mood, and it’s highly likely to increase your own gratitude,” says Tsang. If you don’t believe us, try helping out an animal shelter without feeling warm and fuzzy when you leave. Check out volunteermatch.org to find an opportunity that fits with your schedule and interests.
Think small. When we imagine being thankful, our minds usually go to big picture things like family and finances. But focusing on little stuff is just as crucial. Let yourself get excited when you’re having a crazy-good hair day or when your boyfriend cooks you dinner. “Those are the things that will still be there even if you lose your job tomorrow,” says Tsang.
Stock up on stationary. Whether you received a gift or your mentor met you for coffee, follow it up with a hand-written note, says Tsang. Sure, it makes you look good, but it also ensures that you act on your gratitude, which can make it a habit.
Step back from social media. The recent epidemic of Facebook friends posting what they’re thankful for may inspire you—or it could make you feel like you pale in comparison to their blessings. “If it’s bringing you down, take a break,” says Tsang. It may be easier to focus on your own appreciation when it doesn’t look like a competition.
Ditch the guilt. We often downplay how grateful we are when we know others aren’t as fortunate. “We think, how can I be thankful for this new purse when some people don’t even have food to eat?” says Tsang. Don’t get stuck in this trap. Remind yourself that you have a reason to be appreciative, and allow yourself to feel it. “You can be grateful and it doesn’t have to take away from another person’s situation,” says Tsang.
Fake it. If you really can’t boost feelings of gratitude on your own, skip to focusing on what you can control—like going to the gym twice a week. Sometimes you need a kick-start, so it’s OK to come at this from another direction, says Hill. “If you go out and exercise, you’ll be more grateful for your health,” he says. And that feeling will motivate you to stick with it.
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