For many, holidays stir up an odd mix of emotions. There’s joy in family traditions and get-togethers but also sadness for family and friends no longer with us or longing for loved ones far away. Your excitement for celebrations may also come with anxiety, thanks to all the traveling, spending, cooking, and cleaning that special gatherings seem to demand.
Even when holidays are picture-perfect – your team is up by a touchdown or two, the gravy isn’t lumpy, and your father-in-law left his politics at the door – they still can be hectic.
They also can trigger stress, depression, and even grief.
But what if instead of focusing on “how do I cope?” we considered how we can really celebrate in the truest sense of the word? What if we began with an actual act of thanks-giving: gratitude?
Several years ago, a team of psychological researchers set out to see whether gratitude predicts physical health – and, if so, why? So they collected data from nearly 1000 Swiss adults and crunched the numbers to find out.
Our findings suggest that grateful individuals experience better physical health, in part, because of their greater psychological health, propensity for healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns.
Isn’t that a delightful domino effect?
Other research has suggested that developing an attitude of gratitude may improve immune function, cardiac function, and the quality of your sleep, while reducing stress, aches and pains, and blood pressure!
When you consider how stress can contribute to health problems ranging from gum disease to sleep deprivation to full-blown depression, countering it with gratitude seems a no-brainer. And when gratefulness leads to giving, as it so often does, you might even live longer, according to one particularly intriguing study on the effects of charitable behavior.
Providing help or support to others, while often depicted as burdensome, is robustly associated with better health and well-being. Indeed, volunteering or providing care for close others predicts reduced morbidity and mortality and increased psychological well being.
Giving is naturally good for your community, too! Whether you’re cleaning up a park, donating your time to a shelter or food pantry, or delivering Meals-on-Wheels to a homebound senior, you’re showing you care about your town and the folks who live there. That supports their health and well-being, as well as your own.
So this holiday season, try sitting down with your family to share your gratitude, then consider how you can help others this season. Take pleasure in performing random acts of kindness for loved ones, neighbors, co-workers, and perfect strangers.
You might even discover, as in the video below, how giving inspires even more giving!