As we begin the holiday season of hustle and bustle, it is important to pause this weekend of Thanksgiving and feel grateful. The centerpiece of my family’s holiday table this year will be a gratitude “tree”, which we create. At each person’s dinner place, children included, they will find a paper leaf in a fall color. On one side we write our names and on the other, write what we are grateful for, then hang the leaves on our “tree” (a branch anchored in a jar or vase with stones). This allows each of us to acknowledge what has touched our hearts. It also gives us time to talk together about what gratitude means.
With children at your table it is fun to share from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.
Gratitude was also the theme in my yoga classes this week. The children loved making a gratitude tree, which inspired a lively and thoughtful discussion of what they were grateful for, “my family and my IPad”, my parents and mac and cheese”.
We then expressed our gratitude for the sun in a Sun Salutation. A tapping exercise expressed that we were thankful for rain. Warrior III expressed how grateful we were for our friends, then a hug for ourselves showed our self-love.
We expressed gratitude for all creatures on Earth, as each child chose an animal and we did the corresponding yoga pose. The Goldfish by Laurie Berkner from her CD Victor Vito joyfully showed gratitude for the fish in the sea.
Savasana was with thoughts on how grateful we are. Then Namaste
Two other children’s books on gratitude that I read to my grandchildren and share with my yoga classes that are beautifully written and uniquely and colorfully illustrated are Gracias/Thanks by Pat Mora and Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli. Pat Moor’s bilingual book is told by a young boy who recounts the many things he is grateful for: his time at the beach, bees that don’t sting him, sun that wakes him up in the morning, a cricket that chirps him to sleep at night, and old, soft pajamas. Ms. Spinelli’s book is a sweet story of the effect of love on a lonely man.
It is so important to remember gratitude throughout the busy holiday season, and throughout the year. As the following article illustrates, being grateful is literally good for your heart and for your soul.
Gratitude Is Good For The Soul And Helps The Heart, Too
As we launch into Thanksgiving week, consider this: Research shows that feeling grateful doesn’t just make you feel good. It also helps — literally helps — the heart.
A positive mental attitude is good for your heart. It fends off depression, stress and anxiety, which can increase the risk of heart disease, says Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. Mills specializes in disease processes and has been researching behavior and heart health for decades. He wondered if the very specific feeling of gratitude made a difference, too.
So he did a study. He recruited 186 men and women, average age 66, who already had some damage to their heart, either through years of sustained high blood pressure or as a result of heart attack or even an infection of the heart itself. They each filled out a standard questionnaire to rate how grateful they felt for the people, places or things in their lives.
It turned out the more grateful people were, the healthier they were. “They had less depressed mood, slept better and had more energy,” says Mills.
And when Mills did blood tests to measure inflammation, the body’s natural response to injury, or plaque buildup in the arteries, he found lower levels among those who were grateful — an indication of better heart health.
So Mills did a small follow-up study to look even more closely at gratitude. He tested 40 patients for heart disease and noted biological indications of heart disease such as inflammation and heart rhythm. Then he asked half of the patients to keep a journal most days of the week, and write about two or three things they were grateful for. People wrote about everything, from appreciating children to being grateful for spouses, friends, pets, travel, jobs and even good food.
After two months, Mills retested all 40 patients and found health benefits for the patients who wrote in their journals. Inflammation levels were reduced, and heart rhythm improved. And when he compared their heart disease risk before and after journal writing, there was a decrease in risk after two months of writing in their journals. Those results have been submitted to a journal, but aren’t yet published.
Mills isn’t sure exactly how gratitude helps the heart, but he thinks it’s because it reduces stress, a huge factor in heart disease.
“Taking the time to focus on what you are thankful for,” he says, “letting that sense of gratitude wash over you — this helps us manage and cope.”
And helps keep our hearts healthy.