Sunday, April 20, 2014
By WES DAVIS
Gratitude helps people improve their health, according to this month's Harvard Mental Health Letter, published by the Harvard Medical School.
REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.
The publication cites a landmark study, which showed that those who expressed gratitude had fewer health complaints. They also exercised more and required fewer visits to physicians.
This reminds me of a quote that is floating around on Facebook about mankind. It says, "he sacrifices his health in order to make money." I can relate to that. A recent law school graduate, I was making myself sick -- literally -- worrying about my six-figure educational loans and dim job prospects. My head pounded, my stomach churned, and my body was weak.
According to the Harvard publication, "Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals -- whether to other people, nature, or a higher power."
I tried this one day. When I woke up, I did not let my thoughts race as usual, worrying about my dwindling bank account and the lack of response to my job applications. Instead, I was grateful that my wife was going to care for our two young children that night by herself so I could go on a business trip related to what little work I did have.
As a result of my gratitude, I wanted to help out my wife as much as possible before I left. I cared for the kids and chatted her up for a couple of hours until it was time to go. I felt good helping. I left for my trip, and to my surprise my health had improved.
The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, which means grace or graciousness, depending on the context. I certainly felt gracious at the time.
This was a good thing because, after we came to a stop, I received a phone call from a prospective employer. As he interviewed me, he liked what he heard and hired me.
According to studies reported in the Wall Street Journal, people who frequently feel grateful earn more money, sleep more soundly, have fewer headaches and stomach aches, and have greater resistance to viral infections.
I never used to think of gratitude as having health benefits. I am glad there are scientific studies that help me see and experience this connection.
I also used to think of gratitude as something of drudgery -- an obligation, something I gave but got little back in return for. But now that I see its healthy effects, I am much more willing to be grateful.
I am now eager to answer blogger Rachel Emma Silverman, who asks "in the spirit of making ourselves physically and mentally healthier, what are you thankful for this holiday season?"
Silverman compares gratitude to a "wonder drug." "If you could bottle gratitude, you could change the world," she blogs. That is an astounding statement.
And I cannot help but think gratitude is even better than that. After all, it is always accessible and does not cost anything.
Wes Davis is the spokesperson for Christian Science in Maine. He can be reached at: