Four ways to enjoy the benefits of gratitude

Pilgrims begin to wake before sunrise at Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations where Pope Francis celebrated a mass of farewell and prayer of Angelus on July 28, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Buda Mendes, Getty Images)

Research has shown that an attitude of gratitude has the power to bestow a multitude of physical and mental health benefits. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a Professor at the University of California, Davis and a leading researcher in the psychology of gratitude, individuals who practice gratitude:

Have lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease.

Experience less loneliness and isolation.

Enjoy stronger immune systems and generally report fewer symptoms of illness.

Have an easier time falling asleep and feel more refreshed in the morning.

Are optimistic about the future, have a stronger sense of well-being, and suffer fewer symptoms of stress and depression.

Emmons says that gratitude involves two attributes first, the affirmation of goodness, or the recognition that life is generally good, and second, that the goodness can be attributed to someone or something outside of ourselves. Its counting our blessings and appreciating what we have.

Well, tis the season to be grateful, but gratitude can prove elusive when were down on our luck or sick.

I feel enormously grateful for being healthy and fit most of the time. But a few weeks ago I developed a terrible virus, which, along with a flare-up of my plantar fasciitis, stopped me in my tracks and relegated me to the couch. Rest, my doctor said. And so I rested. And fumed. And worried. One cant pay the bills when one cant train clients, after all. Thus, my rest turned into an all-out pity party. My normal attitude of gratitude had vanished into thin air.

It wasnt long before Id grown completely weary of daytime television and fitness journals. So one day, I decided to try to be more productive and do what my editor had been nudging me to do for many months ramp up my social media ties to garner a broader blogging reach.

Actually, this practice goes somewhat counter to my usual work of getting folks to unplug and move. But in this case, I discovered that plugging in was just what the doctor ordered. Hours and hours I spent in those weeks reconnecting with former classmates and colleagues, people with whom I hadnt corresponded in years. Well wishes, life updates, blasts from the past for days and days I found myself glued to my iPad, as I laughed and smiled while meandering down memory lane. It struck me once again how grateful I am for having been blessed with such wonderful friends, family, and acquaintances.

Emmons says that gratitude has the power to do three things: To heal, to energize, and to change lives. How can you cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Here are some practices to employ:

Meditate and pray

Count your blessings. Frequently. Take time each and every day to ponder upon and appreciate what you have.

Try keeping a gratitude journal, an ongoing accounting of all the things in your life for which you are grateful.

Say thank you. Habitually. Thank your spouse, children, friends, parents and co-workers. Thank the grocery cashier and your stylist; your kids teachers, your librarian, and local fire and police personnel; your trainer, doctor, and yoga instructor; your pastor, your mentor, and the guy holding the door for you as you juggle your packages on your way into the post office.

Albert Schweitzer once said, At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

It is never too late or inopportune to show appreciation to others for lighting up your life. Many thanks to my family and friends for the many ways theyve enhanced my life. And thanks to all of our readers this holiday season may yours be filled with tidings of joy and good health.