Being Thankful Is Good for Your HealthPrint
A few years ago I was an emotional wreck. All I could do to stay afloat was grumble and throw imaginary daggers at everything that was bothering me. I was filled with anger, resentment, pain and, worse, I was a fiery ball of negative energy who probably brought more rain than sunshine wherever I went.
Simultaneously, I was also dealing with a lot of health issues. The stress of my situation, coupled with my own negative outlook on life, was leaving me with all kinds of physical problems—anxiety, adrenal exhaustion, headaches, stomach ulcers, chronic fatigue, cold sores, rashes, infections… you name it, I had it. Each time I would go to the doctor he couldn’t “find” anything, so he simply kept treating the problem. At one point, I was on anti-anxiety meds, antibiotics, and antihistamines.
Little did I know that I simply needed to change my perspective and be anti-miserable.
It may be an old wives tale that laughter is the best medicine, but so many new research studies have confirmed that being positive, reducing negative thoughts, having an attitude of gratitude and carrying a positive perspective through hard times, all have direct impact on your health.
US News and World Report writes that happy people live longer: “They're also less likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes, and pain from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.” That’s confirmed by the Harvard Medical School, which says, “Heart patients with a positive outlook may be less likely to die early.” And The Wall Street Journal adds, “A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional and physical well-being.”
But how do you just change gears and go from negative thinking to positive? When I look back at my own history, I was always a glass-is-half-empty person. And for the longest time I believed that being happy-go-lucky, versus grumpy and miserable, was inherent.
While there are people born with a predisposition to negative thinking, depression and anxiety, happiness and gratitude—much like anything—can be learned. And changing perspective is easier than you think. The “positive psychology” movement, called “Authentic Happiness” and founded by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, has a million resources for teaching and learning happiness. And Gretchen Rubin has a wonderful blog and website called The Happiness Project, which helps you ditch negative habits and start your own happiness project.
The most important thing to know about happiness, gratitude and positive thinking is that it’s not shallow. It’s not a state of just sitting around the Thanksgiving-day dinner table with a woozy smile on your face claiming to be thankful for more pumpkin pie. And it’s not the absence of life’s problems. Happy people get cancer, positive people have financial woes and grateful people sometimes lose loved ones. Optimists, statistically, have no fewer problems than pessimists , but happy people simply think differently about life’s problems than negative people. As the Mayo Clinic says, “Positive thinking just means that you approach the unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way.”
One of the best ways to do that is to learn to rid your brain of negative thoughts (which is exactly what I did!). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can actually cure you, without drugs, of “anxiety, guilt, pessimism, procrastination, low self-esteem, and other ‘black holes’ of depression.” David Burns’ book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, would be my book of choice on the subject.
Lastly, what you ingest can also cause negative or positive emotions. Foods laden with saturated or trans fats can cause depression, as can alcohol, drugs, sugar and even caffeine, after their initial energy effects have worn off. Remove junk foods from your diet and replace with healthier fats, healthier carbs and protein. Don’t forget to add exercise. A girlfriend of mine who suffers from lifelong depression took up running. It changed her life.
After many years of struggling with negativity, anger and anxiety, I discovered that I could live healthier if only I changed my brain. I read every book on the subject, overhauled my diet, got hooked on indoor and outdoor cycling, and can gratefully say that I am a happier, healthier individual—mentally, emotionally and physically. And while I may not have been able to fend off my life’s problems with my new attitude, I am definitely able to handle them a heck of a lot better than I did before.