NOV 2014

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YOUR WELLNESS SPA Mind-Body Health 74 DAYSPA | NOVEMBER 2014 Gratitude can take many forms, from the tradi- tional counting of blessings to the simple practice of consciously appreciating the small things that occur throughout your day: traffi c was light this morning; your boss is in a good mood; lunch is especially de- licious. All such thoughts actually initiate changes in the brain, explains Art Markman, Ph.D., professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others (Perigee Trade, 2014). "The good feeling releases brain chemicals associated with positive mood, signaling breathing to slow down and blood pressure to drop," he explains. How we perceive an event or situation is really the fi nal word in how we ultimately process and categorize it in our lives. "The most powerful aspect of gratitude is understanding that [it can] infl uence what you per- ceive and remember," says Markman. "People who are sad or in a bad mood see and remember more negative things. But the reverse is true too. Yes, it's easier to feel gratitude when you're happy than when you're tense or tired, but you can learn to recognize wonderful things and be aware of the positives in your life even at these times. And it's a fact that the psychological and the physical are connected." GOODNESS GRACIOUS Numerous studies have found that status, wealth or privilege do not in and of themselves make people happy. Without a sense of gratitude, even the most successful individuals will often feel jealous or unsatis- fi ed, and focus primarily on what they don't have. They will continually measure themselves against others. A study at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, found that highly materialistic people are the ones most likely to be depressed, in part because the more they have, the higher their baseline of need becomes. "Gratitude is seeing the glass as half-full," says Marty Nemko, award-winning career coach and au- thor of How to Do Life: what they didn't teach you in school (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012). "It's the person who has stage-four cancer and is still grateful for her grandchildren," says Nemko. "It's about not wishing for what you don't have." "Gratitude is the awareness of the positive aspects in life, and the recognition of circumstances and people that cause good things to happen," explains Markman. He gives as an example the individual who consciously appreciates the splendor of nature. "That person might also take time to acknowledge all the people who pre- serve our environment, who take care of the trees or who protect the mountains from developers—in short, those people who share their priorities." Gratitude also generates positive feelings when ex- pressed in personal relationships and tends to be "con- tagious," encouraging friends, family, co-workers and even strangers to show appreciation for each other. It's also a way for people to cope with adversity and con- nect to a physical and spiritual world outside of them- selves. (Check out "Making it a Refl ex" above for ideas on how to channel gratitude.) Experts remind us that although gratitude is essen- tial to happiness, it shouldn't take the place of moti- vation in life. Balance is necessary. "Gratitude is the opposite of drive," explains Nemko. "Gratitude is ac- ceptance; but drive makes you want to achieve some- thing. It's good to feel better, but not if it takes away the drive to improve your life." Andrea Renskoff is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. MAKING IT A REFLEX As with any skill, practicing gratitude gets easier and more automatic the more frequently you do it. If you've ever learned stress management, for example, you know that taking deep breaths whenever tension starts building yields quick relief. After a while, you start doing it refl exively. Gratitude is like deep breathing. By purposefully dwelling on a pleasant memory, savoring the good in the present moment or feeling hopeful about the future at all, you positively impact your own health and well-being. Here are some other gratitude-building suggestions from Harvard Medical School: • Keep a gratitude journal. • Thank someone mentally for something nice they did for you. • Write a thank-you note to someone to express your appreciation of his or her impact on your life. Make it a regular habit. • Pick a weekly time to acknowledge something that has gone right. • Pray or practice a religious ritual, both of which have been known to cultivate gratitude. • Meditate, being mindful of your gratitude for a pleasant sound or the warmth of the sun. © MAARTJE VAN CASPEL/GETTY

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