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Opinion: Cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’ to create a healthier life

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It’s safe to say that most of us want to live a fulfilling life as long as possible. We have plans for the future. These plans may include promotions, travel, a career, starting a business, marriage, children and grandchildren.

However, a health crisis can change everything. Your plans and quality of life depend largely on your health.

We can take steps to ensure good health. We visit the doctor regularly, eat healthily, exercise, take vitamins and maintain health insurance. However, we often overlook a significant component when caring for our health: our outlook.

Here are five ways you can improve your perspective on life.

  1. Focus on thanking others. In a six-week study by the American Psychological Association, half the participants were asked to write grateful thoughts, with prompts such as, “Think of someone in your life who you feel like you have never fully or properly thanked for something meaningful or important that they did for you.” The control group wrote about general topics. The study found that those who wrote about gratitude gave and received more support. It’s natural to want to return or pass on gratitude when you feel grateful.
  2. Stay active. Staying active pertains to more than physical exercise; it includes keeping your mind active, traveling, doing things with friends and family. Get involved. Plan activities with others. Volunteer. Engage with others for a healthy life. An active mind and body lead to positive thoughts.
  3. Cultivate positive emotions. As Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has said, “Positive emotions don’t just make us feel good. They transform our minds, our bodies and our ability to bounce back from hard times.” Fredrickson is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Life is going to give you the bitter, sour citrus occasionally. When you get lemons, take the opportunity to flourish. Plant the seeds and nurture the trees. 

Take this approach and you’ll get lots of practice adding the kind, appreciative sweetness of sugar. Add the sincerity and openness of water, and you will have lemonade. Throw in some curiosity, and you could enjoy lemon bars or lemon pie.

We need to practice kindness, appreciation, openness and sincerity to foster a positive mindset that results in positive emotions.

According to Fredrickson, positive emotions spur creativity, open our awareness, increase resiliency and help us to form solid relationships.

  1. Strengthen relationships. Focus on the people you meet who are good, true and kind. Form a lasting friendship and keep them close. Carve out time to spend with those you love and care about.

Louis Cozolino, a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and author of “Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity,” emphasizes, “Of all the experiences we need to survive and thrive, it is the experience of relating to others that is the most meaningful and important.”

If you are working so much that you don’t have a life outside of work, you don’t have a healthy life. It is time to assess your priorities. Countless times people lament missing activities with those they care about. However, no one wishes they had spent more time at work.

Please think of the people for whom you are grateful and spend time with them.

  1. Be grateful. An attitude of gratitude may be the pivotal key to living a longer, healthier life. Grateful people live longer, are more active, have more and better relationships, and appreciate people and various aspects of their lives. Plus, they enjoy better physical health, according to studies published by The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Anyone can take steps toward a healthier, longer life. It’s a choice. You can create habits of optimism and gratitude by beginning with these five suggestions. Did you realize that you have increased your optimism and gratitude just by reading this article?

Today, take steps toward a life of joy and fulfillment. Choose to be grateful and optimistic. Remember to include your outlook on life as part of your health plan.

LaDonna Greiner is the author of the “21 Reasons to Say Thank You” series, a photographer and a motivational speaker with a focus on gratitude. She serves as national immediate past chair of the Association of Women in Communication. She can be reached at ladonna.g@21reasons.life.

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