Lori Russell-Chapin Ph.D.

Brain Waves

'Tis the Season to Be Grateful!

New research suggests that optimism and gratitude may keep us healthy.

Posted Dec 14, 2016

The holidays are the season filled with joy and goodwill.  For many it is a time of festivity and cheer. For others it is a difficult time from holidays past.  Although it is not realistic to think we can have this attitude all year long, research consistently suggests that optimistic people may live longer and are a bit happier.  Dr. Martin Seligman has spent much of his career developing positive psychology tenets and their connection to mental health.

My mom taught me this song, and I sang it to my children everyday.  I am sure they got tired of it, but I wanted them to start their day happy.  You probably will recognize the lyrics: “Good morning to you, good morning to you.  We’re all in our places with bright, shining faces. This is the way to start a new day!” It does make sense.

Recently Finnish researchers published results from an 11 year study using data from 2,267 Finnish men and women.  The data collected were biomarkers and a self-report pessimism rating scale. The findings concluded that a pessimistic attitude significantly increased the risk of dying from heart disease.  Those who were pessimistic were twice as likely to die early, and 122 people died from coronary heart disease.

The truly good news about all of this information is that each of us can become a more optimistic person.  Several months ago, I wrote a blog on neuroplasticity.  Because our brains are plastic, with practice we can become more grateful and optimistic.  Dr. Cary Nelson, a family practitioner, suggested to his clients three new daily practices to become a more optimistic and grateful person:  1.  meditate for only 5 minutes a day, 2.  begin to write a daily gratitude journal and 3.  smile more often.

I love all three of his exercises, but the last one makes me smile just writing this blog.  Not only

Lori Russell-Chapin
Source: Lori Russell-Chapin

will smiling make you happier, but it is contagious.  It will make others smile too.  Our mirror neurons help others smile when they see your smile.  What a great brain we have, if you practice these positive plastic techniques.

For Christmas this year, I gave my girlfriends beautiful “blessing bracelets.”  Besides being so pretty, the idea is to daily touch each pearl or bead on the bracelet.  Offer a different blessing for something in your life for each pearl.  If we offered 4 different pieces of gratitude each day for 365 days of the year, think of the profound attitude change in our lives!

I am challenging each of you to start practicing optimism and gratitude today.  This ties into my last month’s blog on resiliency as well.  With gratitude we may be on the way to better health, resiliency and longer living. 

Here is a wonderful quote from Cicero, “Gratitude is not the greatest of virtues, it is the parent of all others.”  Practice being grateful and see what happens.

Happy Holidays!

For information about Bradley University's online Master in Counseling go to: http://onlinedegrees.bradley.edu/counseling.


Pänkäläinen, Mikko et al. "Pessimism And Risk Of Death From Coronary Heart Disease Among Middle-Aged And Older Finns: An Eleven-Year Follow-Up Study". BMC Public Health, vol 16, no. 1, 2016, Springer Nature, doi:10.1186/s12889-016-3764-8. Strack F, et al. "Inhibiting And Facilitating Conditions Of The Human Smile: A Nonobtrusive Test Of The Facial Feedback Hypothesis. - Pubmed - NCBI".Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3379579.