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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
Novembr 2017
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Adding Life to Years
by Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
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Giving Thanks 

Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss

Thanksgiving is in November and it is the time of year to give thanks. Unfortunately, our world is experiencing major traumas with hurricanes, floods, fires, and mass shootings. How can we be thankful with all this death and destruction? We are also experiencing more common and vocal hatred and prejudice be it race, religion, and sex. This behavior is manifesting itself publicly from the top down and we are being bombarded by it in the news every day. I have friends that cannot watch or listen to the news because of all the negativity and hatred that is being expressed. I, on the other hand, want to hear it, so that maybe I can understand the behavior. It appears that we are reverting back to the 1930’s as a prejudicial society. What can be done?

Despite the highest standard of living in the history of humanity, our generation seems driven by an insatiable desire for more, better and faster. Just when we should feel most satisfied, we find ourselves bored and disillusioned. The problem is not that things are so bad, but that we have lost a gift called gratitude. Even though we may stuff ourselves at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, celebrating Thanksgiving and being thankful can actually make us healthier. Recent research has shown that being thankful improves our physical and emotional health. Holding on to feelings of thankfulness boosts our immune system and increases blood supply to our heart. Daily guided exercises of giving thanks or the habit of keeping a weekly gratitude journal can increase our alertness, enthusiasm, and energy, and improve our sleep. People who describe themselves as feeling grateful tend to suffer less stress and depression than the rest of the population. Cultivating a spirit of thankfulness honors and strengthens our relationships with other people. We can’t be in a right relationship with anyone without a spirit of thankfulness.

Being thankful or gratitude also serves to reinforce future behavior in benefactors. For example, one experiment found that customers of a jewelry store who were called and thanked showed a subsequent 70 percent increase in purchases. In comparison, customers who were called and told about a sale showed only a 30 percent increase in purchases, and customers who were not called at all did not show an increase (Carey, J. R.,, 1976). In another study, regular patrons of a restaurant gave bigger tips when servers wrote "Thank you" on their checks (Rind, B., & Bordia, P., 1995).

According to Cicero, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others." Several research studies have shown the positive relationship between gratitude and increased wellbeing not only for the individual but for all people involved. In addition, there is research that has shown people who were more grateful coped better with life transitions. Specifically, people who were more grateful before the transition were less stressed, less depressed, and more satisfied with their relationships three months later. Gratitude has been said to have one of the strongest links with mental health of any character trait. Numerous studies suggest that grateful people are more likely to have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression.

Thankful people appreciate what they have instead of obsessing over what they lack. They express gratitude to others, and often receive more gratitude in return as a result. They see each day as a new opportunity for happiness, rather than another challenge to struggle through. Here is a couple of suggestions on being thankful:

Grateful? Write it down. Think about it. Talk about it. Tis the season of thanking, and not only will you spread those positive vibes to those around you, your health will benefit, too. You can pay it forward and pay it to you. For those who tend to be more Grinch like than grateful, there's some hard evidence that might make you want to turn that frown upside down. A positive outlook and feelings of thankfulness can have a direct and beneficial effect on the brain and body. The brain's primary reward chemical is called dopamine. Many good and bad things happen every day, but the real benefit comes when we focus our attention on those positive things. If we focus on the bad things, we don't get the neurotransmitter release of the dopamine that allows us to feel good. The brain doesn't know the difference when it's reacting to reality, fiction or even past events. So feel thankful for things whether they are real or not and that will have a positive effect on your mood and emotional wellbeing, what better way to “add life to years.”

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.