“Count your blessings, Paulie,” admonished “Gigi”. I can see my teenage self, rolling my eyes and dismissing the comment as just another Gigi-ism.
Gigi was our name for my Mom. A font of wisdom, a cliche handy for practically every circumstance, she was continuously teaching us about life, its ups and downs, the misfortunes and triumphs.
A consistent lesson, summed up in the three words, “count your blessings”, was about the importance of gratitude.
Turns out that maintaining a consistent attitude of gratitude may be one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Positive psychology

In the growing field of positive psychology, evidence shows that gratitude actually contributes to better health.
Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley and UC Davis have collaborated to launch the Science and Practice of Gratitude,  a multiyear research project to study the effect and practice of gratitude.
Dr. Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, a renowned thought leader on the science of gratitude says,
“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.”
He studied more than a thousand individuals, from age eight to eighty, and found that those who practice gratitude consistently experience the following wonderful physical benefits:
  1. Lower blood pressure
  2. Improved immune function
  3. Better quality sleep
  4. Stronger heart health
  5. Less inflammation
  6. Lower cortisol, a marker of chronic stress and contributor to belly fat
  7. Improves irregular heart beats, arrhythmia
  8. Less depression
  9. Less fatigue
“Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations,” Emmons reports.
It’s November. At the end of the month we take a long weekend and enjoy feasts with our friends and families, ostensibly to pause and give thanks for the good things in our lives.

Why wait?

Any reason we couldn’t heed Gigi’s wisdom today? Every day?
Could we not count our blessings now, take stock of our good fortune, recognize all the good things and people in our lives? Or, through a darker lens, perhaps reflect on how much worse things could be?

This practice is helpful

A practice that I adopted years ago that I’ve found especially healthy involves literally counting my blessings. I conclude each day by enumerating everything for which I feel grateful – a gratitude list. Some days the list is shorter than others and takes a bit of digging. Yep, we’ll all have days like that.
Most days, it’s an extensive list and I need to cut it short so I can get to sleep. Funny how the things we practice often are what we get good at. Same is true of gratitude.
When Gigi was exhorting me to “count your blessings”, she didn’t mean just that moment, but continuously, to adopt an attitude of gratitude, and through that, to hopefully enjoy better health and happiness.
One thing we are super grateful for… you! Julie and I appreciate you. Thank you for taking the time to read this and as always, Julie and I greatly appreciate your support and encouragement.
Be well!

Works cited:

  1. Emmons R., McCullough M., Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389.
  2. Emmons R., “Why Gratitude is Good”. The Greater Good, the Science and Meaning of Life. greatergood.berkelye.edu. University of California, Berkeley. November 16, 2010.
  3. Wood, A. Gratitude Influences Sleep Through the Mechanism of Pre-sleep Cognitions. The Journal of Psychosomatic ResearchJanuary 2009, Vol. 66, 43–48.
  4. Wood, A., The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality. 2008, Vol. 42, 854–871.

Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.