In Praise of Gratitude

Funny, the things you stumble onto along the road of life that somehow become every bit as indispensible as good shoes or a rain slicker.

One of mine, oddly enough, is a lovely ballad called “Streets of London” by a journeyman British folksinger named Ralph McTell. In it, he summarizes the hopeless lot of London’s downtrodden street people, loners and forgotten veterans, interspersed with a chorus that’s been my constant companion since first hearing it:

So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
Show you something to make you change your mind.

It is a powerful gift to have a well-worn reminder of the importance of gratitude in our lives.

In fact, in the years since McTell took that fortuitous stroll, scientists have discovered something that grateful folks have long intuited: gratitude not only makes you happier – it makes you healthier, too.

The biological benefits of a daily dose of thank-you’s include:Gratitude3

  • Heart health: Daily appreciation of things to be thankful for has been shown to stabilize heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Weight control: Appreciative people spend 36 percent more time exercising, and hence enjoy better health, than the doom-and-gloomers.
  • Improved sleep: A grateful disposition has been shown to reduce such stress hormones as cortisol by 23 percent, thus improving the duration and quality of sleep.
  • Enhanced immunity: Optimism and gratitude tend to boost the body’s immune response and increase production of white blood cells to fend off diseases.
  • Healthier lungs: Grateful people are less likely to acquire unhealthy habits such as smoking.

While harder to quantify, gratitude has also been shown to enhance self esteem, patience, empathy and resilience; lower the risk of depression; and defend against such toxic emotions as envy, resentment and regret.

Will gratitude magically make our problems disappear? Doubtful.

But simply acknowledging that whatever obstacles we face in life pale in comparison to the vast good fortune we too often take for granted can absolutely help us address and overcome them.

Tip of the hat to American Greetings, the thank-you card folks, for the scientific evidence, and to Ralph McTell, who’s still gigging at 71. Download his song; it will change your life.

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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