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.

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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.