“So, what’s the ONE thing that makes a difference to live a healthy life?” asked a fellow passenger I met on cruise ship while on holiday
The ONE thing, I pondered. I stared off, a list of health tips running through my head.
Eat more Plants
Get enough sleep
I thought about each one to see if they qualified as the ONE. Although all of them are useful, important aspects of a healthy lifestyle they didn’t pass the test of being the “ONE” .
The “ONE” question followed me for the next few days. My mind chasing after the possibilities ….”What’s the ONE thing?”
I was about to dismiss it with there’s not “ONE”…there is not just ONE thing”
Then it came to me…..Gratitude.
Really? Gratitude? Could it be? Is gratitude THE ONE THING? Certainly I’m a big fan but could it be the ONE? I had to test my hypothesis to see if I could say gratitude is the “ONE thing”.
Certainly we all know being grateful and thankful is important for relationships but does it help your health? Interestingly, gratitude can help both emotional and physical health.
Asking yourself the question” what do I have to be grateful for?” increases your awareness. As we become more aware we start to notice possibilities that maybe we didn’t see before. I consider this as a shifting of our perspective from “possibilities not problems”. This is especially useful if you want to move from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality.
What do I mean by a scarcity mentality? For an example, scarcity says “I can’t because I don’t have enough _________”(fill in the rest). Not enough time, not enough sleep, not enough choices. “Not enough” thinking focuses on what limits or restricts.
Abundance sees what you already have, what is already in your possession. Once you view your life with abundance, your thinking can shift from problems to possibilities in spite of external limits or restrictions. I’ve noticed it helps me to add a creative approach to see what IS possible, connecting the dots where maybe I hadn’t seen a solution before.
When we view life with an abundance mentality-shifting our perspective to all that we have- we can see possibilities where we only saw problems before.
Physical Benefits of gratitude
So while being grateful can help one’s perspective, how can gratitude help you lead a healthier life? Isn’t a “healthy lifestyle” just about what we eat and getting enough exercise? Will gratitude help that?
Researchers are starting to ask the same question. Although limited research exists we do have some new studies that support my hypothesis. It seems that exercising your spiritual muscle with gratitude exercises can have physical benefits as well.
A 2014 study found that people who helped others tended to be more grateful and those who were more grateful also reported better physical health
In heart failure patients, an association was noted between gratitude with better sleep mood and less fatigue. To me this suggests it would be better to count your blessings instead of counting sheep.
One study found that grateful individuals are more likely to engage in health activities and more willing to seek help for their health concerns
Appreciation, an emotion related to gratitude can have beneficial effects on heart rate variability. Gratitude has been associated with less inflammation and better blood vessel function in patients who suffered a heart attack. In heart failure patients those who were more grateful reported better sleep less fatigue and lower levels of cellular inflammation (2015)
A 2016 study on patients with acute coronary syndrome found better adherence to health regimens in those patients with more optimism and gratitude. This improvement in adherence and well being could play a role in decrease hospitalizations and re-admissions for these patients.
Stronger feelings of gratitude have been associated with with lower hemoglobulin A1c (HbA1c). A1c, a marker of diabetes status, has been associated with kidney disease and some cancers.
Back to our story….
“What’s the one thing?” the man asks. He noted me staring off in silence. I started playing with my fork not even realizing I didn’t answer or acknowledge the question until he, retracting the question, said ” I guess it’s a hard question, never mind”.
What’s important to know about the man asking the question is that he had recently been diagnosed and treated for a brain tumor. He was traveling with his beautiful wife, a breast cancer survivor. Both fortunately now cancer free. This amazing couple had literally traveled around the world together. Along the way, they made friends with another couple that became not only their travel companions but lifelong friends. That couple also had recently gone through their own personal struggles and challenges.
In spite of each of their struggles and private battles. they all remained grateful and positive. The challenges these couples faced didn’t keep them from enjoying life. In fact the four of them could easily become the life of any party or social event.
When the man asking the question learned that I worked in healthcare he immediately expressed the gratitude he had for the members of the healthcare team he worked with while undergoing treatment for the tumor. In fact, he later told me he made a point to tell each one their importance pointing out the impact something they said or did had on him while he was going through his treatment.
So, in a twist of irony, the one asking the question already possessed the spirit of gratitude that I believe is the ONE thing. He already knew the answer to the question he was asking me. He was living out the answer. But by asking me the question, he helped me to discover the ONE thing for myself. For that, I am grateful.