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November 26th, 2008
12:08 PM ET

The importance of being thankful

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Every day I wake up and thank God for another day. It's not a big ceremony. It's just something I do to calm my soul. I am a blessed person and I feel it's important to acknowledge that fact.

When I was a little girl, my parents made sure I always said "Thank you” for the things I was given. I never took anything for granted. A kind word, a small token, I was always appreciative. Even as an adult I keep "Thank you" notes in my desk, ready to send to those who have looked out for me, or been there when I needed them most.

Doctors say giving thanks, taking the time to notice positive things in your life is not only good for your psyche but it's good for your body. University of California at Davis researchers found that practicing gratitude can lower your blood pressure and make you feel less hostile. Grateful people are less angry, less negative and usually look for the cup half full. Studies by Cornell University researchers have shown that those who are thankful appear to have lower risks of developing phobias, alcoholism, even depression. They even have stronger immune systems.

And while Thanksgiving is a perfect time to stop and give thanks for things you have, psychologists say it shouldn't be the only time of year you do it. Being thankful, I mean REALLY THANKFUL, should happen every day. I know in these tough times of foreclosures, unemployment and a bear market, many people think they don't have much to be thankful for. But, as my grandmother used to say, "if you've got your health and are surrounded by the people you love, then you are fortunate." I am a very fortunate person.

While Thanksgiving is a U.S. holiday, ALL of us can make a resolution to wake up and express appreciation for the things we feel grateful for. Take a moment each day to thank a co-worker, your spouse, your child, a friend, the guy who holds the door open for you, or the waitress who brings you coffee with a smile, and see if you don't feel a little better after doing it.

What are you thankful for? How do you express it? What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Please let us know.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Ratna, New York, NY

    Dear Val,

    For me, the Holidays are important because of the joy and compassion people spread to eachother. I wish that people could be more like that all year around. I think that there is more community and social congregational activities going around in which more attention is paid to the needy on Holidays then usual (homeless, elderly etc.) The more social interaction humans can get, the healthier, considering that in America the Holiday suicide rates are lower then Europe, because of the warm welcome a stranger can get when walking into a holiday party or congregational event.

    November 29, 2008 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Nancy

    Dear Val,

    Thank you for your wise article and insights. Your article, combined with an eloquent reflection on gratitude from my father this past weekend, prompted my own musings on thankfulness and on the lessons seniors can teach in this area: http://tiny.cc/Hj7co .

    All of us, I think, have something to teach as well as something to learn when it comes to appreciating not only the things in our lives, but the people as well. Parents, in particular, have a unique opportunity to model gratitude [http://tiny.cc/04Op8] and to help instill awareness of the many gifts large and small all around us.

    Inspired by your post and reflecting on the importance of gratitude, my 5-year-old son and I started the day by talking about what we are thankful for. At the top of our list was our family. A nice start!

    Speaking of nice starts, wouldn’t it be great to start 2009 with a resolution to approach life and one another with awareness and with real gratitude? Something to think about…

    Thanks again.

    Coach Nancy
    http://www.myparentingsource.com

    December 1, 2008 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Stacy

    Being thankful is always a nice reminder that life isn't that bad. I have my health, and my family. Which others are not so lucky. Take some time to be thankful for those small things in your life that make you smile, and it will be contagious.

    You know when you see people walking down the streets smiling – they always make me smile...it's nice to see happy people. And, simple things like taking a moment in your day to be thankful for something will make you smile.

    Try it.

    December 1, 2008 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jo

    Why am I thankful? First and foremost, my parents are still alive!
    Then my entire life changed within the last year starting September 2007. I'm a 46 yr old widow (of 6 yrs) who befriended a man with a young teen-age son. Only to find out that he too lost his wife earlier in the Spring of 2007. We became instant friends all 3 of us. But, he wasn't looking for a relationship only to be friends. I was alone for 6 yrs and didn't know what I wanted. Well, I wasn't going to complain because we were always honest with each other. That's what we admire about each other – honesty! Here it is, December 1, 2008 and now the 3 have become roommates for the past 4 months. All of us living under the same roof, learning about each other, the silliness, the laughter and of course, the tears. But, why am I grateful for these 2 men in my life? They changed my life for the better. I was once under a rock without a light. They've both shown me it's ok to move on and to forgive and forget....because that's what my husband would have wanted. What is more interesting? My husband's name was John and my roommate's first name is John as well! I can't ask for anything else.

    December 1, 2008 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Chandni

    Wishing all of you a Very Happy ThnaksGiving Day!

    December 4, 2008 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Grace Kang-Ong

    As we move into worsening economic slump next year, it's very important for all of us to remember to give thanks, each day. Take care of our spiritual health and feed it with the right food. Thank God for all His blessings.

    Keep it up, Dr Gupta. It's a good article!

    December 11, 2008 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.