The Gift

There is a gift waiting for you to unwrap and discover. “Please share with others” it says. You can’t use it up. The gift increases in size and value the more you use it.

Your gift is gratitude. You were born with it. Our brain is hardwired for gratitude, but it may need a little workout to grow. Practicing gratitude strengthens the brain’s neural pathways that elevate physical and mental health. Studies show that practicing gratitude and having an attitude of thankfulness boosts happiness, reduces anxiety and depression resulting in better sleep. Gratitude makes us feel more connected to people who are attracted to our expression of gratitude and thankfulness and who then return it back to us, a two-way blessing.

Gratitude and spirituality are interconnected. Many of the world’s religions emphasize the development and practice of gratitude as an important moral virtue. Research shows prayerful people demonstrate more gratitude. Psalms in the Old Testament are rich with encouragement to thank God for all things.

Research is uncovering how health and happiness grow with gratitude. Heart disease patients are more likely to improve health outcomes if they keep a gratitude journal. Students who a keep a gratitude journal are happier and more likely to do better in school. People who practice gratitude are more likely to practice healthy habits such as engaging in physical activity and healthy eating. You are more likely to be optimistic.

As 2021 comes to a close and the holidays illuminate our days, think of ways to sincerely share your thankfulness and gratitude for the year. Be grateful for the tough stuff, too, because blessings are hidden within even if you need to search hard to find them. Anticipate opportunities to be thankful in the New Year.

Building gratitude within takes intention. Start a daily practice to make a list of three things that made you feel grateful and three times you expressed gratitude and thankfulness to others. This habit will build your inner peace and happiness leading you to better health. Gratitude also gives you inner strength to face tough times that inevitably happen.

Christmas Gratitude

My daughter shared this story describing how gratitude blessed her. A few years ago she happened to be by herself for Christmas. Feeling very alone and melancholy she thought about family far away. To make things worse, her father had passed away on Christmas day not many years before. That memory alone was enough to bring tears. But months before this particular Christmas she had befriended a homeless, down-on-his-luck gentleman, a trustworthy man of great character and kindness. By chance just days before Christmas, she saw him on a street corner. He asked about her Christmas plans. “None” she said as she felt the tears. He quickly suggested they meet for coffee 11:00 Christmas morning at the coffee shop across the street. They did. As she left home to meet this man, she remembered to grab a simple gift of an inexpensive phone charger still in its box that she had planned for herself. When they sat down, she gave him the little box. As gratitude and excitement lit up his face, my daughter was blessed beyond any response to any gift she had ever given to anyone. Somehow she understood this man had never received Christmas presents and hers meant the world to him. Her Christmas was blessed with a deep understanding of true gratitude. For my daughter and perhaps for this man, it was possibly the most memorable Christmas ever.

And, as the great Roman philosopher Cicero once said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, MA, RDN, CDCES, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.