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Editor's Note: Richard Gunderman is a professor of medicine, liberal arts and philanthropy at the University of Indiana.
(CNN) - As a doctor, I have helped care for many patients and families whose lives have been damaged by serious illnesses and injuries.
In the midst of such catastrophes, it can be difficult to find a cause for anything other than regret.
However, Thanksgiving Day offers us the opportunity to develop one of the healthiest, most affirmative and convivial habits: that of counting and rejoicing in our blessings.
Benefits of gratitude
Research shows that grateful people tend to be healthy and happy. They exhibit lower levels of stress and depression, deal better with adversity and sleep better. They tend to be happier and more satisfied with life. Even their partners tend to be happier with their relationships.
Perhaps when we are more focused on the good things we enjoy in life, we have more to live for and we tend to take better care of ourselves and others.
When the researchers asked people to reflect on last week and write about things that irritated them or that they felt grateful for, those in charge of remembering good things are more optimistic, feel better about their lives and visit their doctors.
Not surprisingly, receiving thanks makes people happier, but it also expresses gratitude. An experiment that asked participants to write and deliver thank you notes found great increases in the reported levels of happiness, a benefit that lasted a whole month.
One of the greatest minds in Western history, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, argued that we become what we usually do. By changing our habits, we can become more grateful human beings.
If we spend our days reflecting on everything that has gone wrong and how dark the prospects for the future appear, we can lead ourselves to think about misery and resentment.
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But we can also mold ourselves in the type of people who seek, recognize and celebrate all that we should be grateful for.
This does not mean that someone should become a Pollyanna, constantly reciting the mantra of Voltaire's "Candido": "Everything is the best in this, the best of all possible worlds." There are injustices to correct and injuries to heal, and ignoring them would represent a period of moral responsibility.
But the reasons for making the world a better place should never blind us to the many good things it already offers. How can we be compassionate and generous if we are obsessed with deficiency? This explains why the great Roman statesman Cicero called gratitude not only the greatest of virtues but the "mother" of them all.
Gratitude is deeply rooted in many religious traditions. In Judaism, the first words of the morning prayer could be translated: "Thank you." Another saying addresses the question: "Who is rich?" With this answer: "Those who rejoice in what they have."
From a Christian perspective, too, gratitude and thanksgiving are vital. Before Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples, give thanks. Such a vital part of the Christian life is the gratitude that author and critic GK Chesterton calls it "the highest form of thought."
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Gratitude also plays an essential role in Islam. Chapter 55 of the Quran lists all the things for which human beings should be grateful: the sun, the moon, the clouds, the rain, the air, the grass, the animals, the plants, the rivers and the oceans, and Then ask: "How can a sensitive person be anything but grateful to God?"
Other traditions also emphasize the importance of gratitude. Hindu festivals celebrate the blessings and offer thanks for them. In Buddhism, gratitude develops patience and serves as an antidote to greed, the corrosive sense that we never have enough.
Roots even in suffering
In his 1994 book, "A completely new life," the English professor at Duke Reynolds Price University describes how his battle against a spinal cord tumor that left him partially paralyzed also taught him a lot about what it really means to live. .
After surgery, Price describes "a kind of stunned bliss." Over time, although diminished in many ways by his tumor and his treatment, he learns to pay more attention to the world around him and to those who populate him.
Reflecting on the change in his writing, Price notes that his books differ in many ways from those he wrote when he was younger. Even his lyrics, he says, "looks very little like the man he was at the time of his diagnosis."
“Grumpy as it is, it is taller, more readable, and with more air and stride. And it falls from the arm of a grateful man. ”
A touch with death can open our eyes. Some of us emerge with a deep appreciation for the preciousness of each day, a clearer sense of our real priorities and a renewed commitment to celebrate life. In short, we can be more grateful and more alive than ever.
When it comes to practicing gratitude, a trap to avoid is to place happiness in things that make us feel better, or simply better than others. In my opinion, such thinking can foster envy and jealousy.
There are wonderful aspects in which we are equally blessed: the same sun shines on each of us, we all start each day with the same 24 hours, and each of us enjoys the free use of one of the most complex and powerful resources in the universe, the human brain.
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Much of our culture seems to aim to cultivate an attitude of deficiency; For example, most ads aim to make us think that to find happiness we must buy something. However, most of the best things in life, the beauty of nature, conversation and love, are free.
There are many ways to cultivate a thank you disposition. One is to make the habit of giving thanks regularly, at the beginning of the day, at meals and things like that, and at the end of the day.
Also, holidays, weeks, seasons and years can be marked with thanks: prayer or meditation of thanks, write thank you notes, keep a thank you diary and consciously seek blessings in situations that arise.
Gratitude can become a way of life, and by developing the simple habit of counting our blessings, we can improve the degree to which we are truly blessed.