You probably have heard me say (many times!) "the foods we eat have a direct effect on our health and appearance." Many of my monthly blogs and presentations center around this topic. But as a health coach, I know that there is more to good health than just the food we eat. And, as we quickly enter this Thanksgiving holiday season, I want to take a moment to focus on one area of our lives that we tend not to think about often, but it can affect our health and well-being just as much as the food we eat.
That's a familiar word, but, why the hyphen?
The hyphen is a reminder to slow down and appreciate the positive things we have in our lives. Another word for this might be gratitude.
Just as we don't tend to think of the word breakfast as two words, "break" and "fast," meaning to “break the fast,” Thanksgiving is also the compound of two words: it is a time to “give thanks.” At times we may get so caught up in the excitement and stress of the season, we forget the true meaning of the word.
Gratitude or giving thanks is one way we can help ourselves stay healthy.
To quote a study published by Harvard University, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
In research published by Drs. Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, participants that were asked to keep a journal of things for which they were grateful, were more optimistic and felt better about their lives at the end of the study. Maybe even more surprisingly, they also exercised more and reported fewer doctors’ visits than those who were asked to journal on their frustrations and challenges.
By just focusing on positive thoughts, we are able to change our outlook on life.
Some might call this happiness. Being happy not only changes our mood and behavior, but it has physical benefits as well. For instance, it helps reduce stress, which in turn helps regulate our blood pressure, relieves anxiety, and lessens physical symptoms such digestive issues. Left unchecked, stress can lead to long-term illnesses, such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
How can changing your thoughts, change the way you feel?
Here is a very simple example of mine; maybe this might sound familiar to you too.
Some days, it seems that everyone is a bad driver. Everyone else is driving too slow, someone may have cut you off, and nobody is signaling their turns. Once, when all these things seemed to be happening, I stopped myself and refocused my point of view. I realized I was running late and didn’t give myself enough time to get to my destination on time. I was taking this stress out on the other drivers when it was my attitude that was causing me stress. Once I realized this, I caught myself and was able to look at my situation differently; a bit more rationally. I calmed down and I noticed I felt less stressed. I may have still been late for my appointment, but I felt better about myself and my behavior. I might even say I was grateful for this learning opportunity. Whenever I find myself in this situation (yes, it has happened more than once,) I almost smile at myself when I realize what I am doing and that I have control over how I think and behave.
Even the simple act of smiling can change your outlook on life.
Have you ever tried to smile even if you didn’t feel like it?
My qi gong practice begins with S.M.I.L.E. an acronym phrased by Chunyi Lin Qigong Master that stands for “Start Your Internal Love Engine.” It really does work! When you smile, you just naturally feel positive and giving. I would encourage you to try it for yourself sometime when you need a little positivity in your day.
So why would just thinking about being happy make you feel happy?
It helps me to understand when I remind myself that the way I view the world - my viewpoint - is nothing more than thoughts and ideas developed by my mind to help me interpret the world and events around me. BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT THESE THOUGHTS ARE REAL. They are just how I see the world based on my life experiences. Someone viewing the same situation can have a totally different reaction and interpretation.
Once you realize that thoughts are just thoughts and not reality, they can be changed. The situation doesn't change, just the way you decide to interpret what you see, hear, and feel. That in turn will affect the way you react emotionally and physically.
So, this Thanksgiving season, choose to be grateful. Take a positive outlook on events. Try to see the good in things and not focus on the negative. (Okay, so it is raining, at least you don't have to rake the leaves!)
If it helps, you can make a list or try just jotting down 3 things in a journal before going to bed. It can be as simple as being thankful for a learning experience, connecting with family and friends, having those around you that support you, or just feeling the warmth of a sunny day. You may wish to just mentally thank someone who has enriched your day.
Choose whatever makes you S.M.I.L.E.
It is amazing how powerful and gratifying it feels to put your blessings in writing.
Here are a few things that are on my list of things I am grateful for:
- I can wake up every day and look forward to doing something meaningful.
- My vegetable garden that my very capable husband built for me.
- I am pain-free and can enjoy doing the activities that I love.
- Hearing that I have helped someone make healthy eating and lifestyle changes.
- Having loving family and friends that support me in doing what I am passionate about.
What are you grateful for? Do you have any "learning opportunities" that you would like to share? We would love to hear from you!
Yours in Health,