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9 Ways Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Fitter & Richer

gratitude

Photo: Getty Images

The following article was written by Alex Orlov, Life by DailyBurn and published on news.health.com It is a welcome reminder this week of how important being thankful and expressing gratitude are to our well-being.

Your parents taught you to mind your manners. You write thank you notes and tip your barista. But there’s more to being grateful than going through the motions. According to numerous studies, true gratitude is a powerful force that can improve your relationships, increase happiness and even boost immunity. Deep down, most of us know this to be true. But we still have trouble taking time from our busy lives to actually stop, reflect and give thanks for what matters most. The good news: Making the effort to get grateful is easier than you’d expect, and it’s way more effective that you might imagine.

Why it pays to be grateful
Spend just minutes each day reflecting on what you’re grateful for and we can pretty much guarantee you’ll see a snowball effect resulting in physical, psychological and social benefits. Here’s the catch: You need to get grateful throughout the year—not just on Thanksgiving.

One study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research confirmed that individuals who had a more grateful outlook got better quality shut eye, stayed asleep longer and required less time to fall asleep than their less grateful peers. Perhaps more impressive, people who spent times focusing on grateful thoughts exercised for 1.5 more hours each week, compared to people who spent time focusing on the hassles in their life, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Plus, at least eight studies have shown that people who express gratitude tend to show fewer symptoms of depression.

A grateful state of mind can help you win big in business, too. Once study conducted at Harvard Business School, found that participants who were prompted to think of a time when they were grateful were less likely to act impulsively when it came to financial choices when compared with people who were prompted to think of something happy or neutral. Gratitude increases our level of patience, researchers suggested.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” William Arthur Ward, an American writer, once said. In honor of Thanksgiving, here are nine simple ways to cultivate gratefulness every other day of the year.

10 Easy Ways to Start Being More Grateful

Bust out your old diary
Studies show that people who make weekly gratitude journal entries feel better about their lives and more optimistic about the future. Not into breaking out the pen and paper? Try using an app. We like Five Minute Journal, which prompts you to write down three things you’re grateful for, three things that would make the day awesome and three affirmations (e.g. “I am confident,” “I am kind”) each day.

Write a letter to someone who left a mark
Remember that teacher or professor who helped you explore your passions? Or the coach who gave you the confidence to win that game? Grab some stationary and write out a handwritten thank you. According to Martin Seligman, an internationally renowned psychologist and author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing, you’ll benefit from the pleasant memories of positive events and people in your life. Plus, your recipient will feel pretty darn great reading about your fond memories of them. If you want to make thank you notes a weekly habit, gratitude-focused subscription service Gramr.us will send you enough paper and envelopes to write four notes a month.

Appreciate the mundane
Once you get into a routine at home, you might start taking your partner or your housemates for granted. It’s easy to overlook daily tasks. But small acts of kindness, (like when a roommate cleans out the fridge without being asked) make your daily life easier. In one study published in Personal Relationships, showing everyday gratitude for these mundane acts helped improve and even strengthen relationships with significant others. Bonus: The effects weren’t just immediate—they lasted for days.

Bring gratitude to office grouches
Even your sometimes-grumpy boss could use some recognition. One study showed that when powerful, insecure people received gratitude from subordinates, they were less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. The corner office gets lonely, so show them some love and you just might be treated better in the future.

Compliment someone
There’s nothing like being on the receiving end of genuine praise—so why not make someone else’s day? Tell someone he or she looks awesome, did a great job, or rocked a workout. They’ll feel like a million bucks—quite literally. Receiving a compliment lights up the same regions of the brain that get activated when you receive cold hard cash, studies suggest. This region of the brain controls memory and learning, and researchers believe compliments can help us perform better for days after being given praise.

Thank behind-the-scenes people
From waiters and baristas, to cabbies and cleaning men and women, there are lots of people who help your life run smoothly. If someone has provided you a service, take a minute to ask his or her name and let him or her know you wouldn’t be able to function without that cup of coffee or late-night ride home. According to recent research, thanking new acquaintances for help can ensure that they’ll have your back in the future.

Give credit where credit’s due
Just finished a big collaborative project at work? Be the one to publicly toot everyone else’s horn. Recognizing how each person contributed to the success of the group will create a sense of community and can make individuals more motivated to bring their A-game next time around, suggests research from psychologists in Japan. Not the type to shout your appreciation from the rooftops? Write someone’s manager a note to report excellent service.

Make it a public affair
Posting on social media or participating in an online gratitude project can help you pay your grateful feelings forward. According to data scientists at Facebook, emotions are contagious on the social network. Post a grateful status update and your friends just might feel more positive. Don’t want to bombard your personal newsfeed every day? At The Gratitude Jar, read why other people around the world are feeling grateful, and add your own positive thoughts to the “jar.” Or, put your blessings on the World Gratitude Map.

Put gratitude before gossip
Catching up with friends over a few beers? Instead of immediately ranting about a bad roommate, demanding boss or weird date, start by sharing the positive highlights of your life. Talking through hardships is important, but sharing the good stuff with your buddies can help you feel happier and even help you cope with the truly sucky things that occur.

Gratitude isn’t about believing that life is perfect, writes Robert Emmons in Why Gratitude Is Good. Rather, it’s about identifying happiness when we look at our lives as a whole.

A quick seasonal stew (with chicken and barley)

Packed with vegetables, lean protein and barley, this nutritious stew would be perfect on a cold night.

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This is literally a whats-in-the-fridge stew using seasonal fresh vegetables. You will need a kilo of vegetables to every 500g of meat used. Add a grain or pulse and the result is a great home cooked meal that can be prepared the day before as it improves when left overnight in the fridge. It is such a good feeling to know you have a meal waiting for you after a day at work.

For my stew today I have used :

500 g skinless chicken breast
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 small broccoli head, cut up into large pieces
1/4 cauliflower, but up into small pieces
1 chayote, peels and chopped
Handful of chopped parsley
1 spoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 chopped carrots
3 potatoes, chopped
2 liter chicken or vegetable stock or…

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Chow Train: A Food Truck for the Homeless

Joan

The following article was written by Jessica Belasco and published on mysanantonio.com

Photo by Jennifer Whitney/Special to the Express-News.

Come nightfall on Tuesdays, the hungry begin waiting for Chef Joan to arrive.

Some haven’t eaten all day. Others have dined on nothing but fast food or canned food since last week.

When Joan Cheever, founder of the Chow Train, drives up, they’re gathered on sidewalks or parking lots, wanting to know what’s for dinner.

On the menu this chilly evening in early March is green chicken enchiladas, grilled chicken breast sandwiches with caramelized onions and smoked paprika aioli, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, marinated zucchini and beet salad.

“God bless you,” Danny de la Garza says as he accepts a heaping plate, which costs him nothing because he has nothing to give.

Like many of the people Cheever will feed tonight, de la Garza is homeless.

Feeding restaurant-quality meals to the hungry is the goal of the Chow Train, a nonprofit food truck.

“I’d like nothing better than to have no business,” says Cheever, 54. “But as long as I do, they’re going to get fed, and they’re going to get fed a three-course meal.”

Cheever and several volunteers deliver food on Tuesday nights at several locations — off Austin Highway, off Broadway and downtown on South Alamo Street — with Brian Wicks of Resurrection Ministries. She also serves lunch about once a month with Under the Bridge Inc. downtown at Austin and Ninth streets and some Mondays at Catholic Worker House on the East Side.

The food is fresh and nutritious, heavy on the vegetables.

Dr. Chris Plauche, a member of the board of directors of Catholic Worker House, says Cheever prepares healthful meals for a diverse population.

“She is so attentive to all of our guests who are homeless, to their different diets, like those with diabetes, those who are vegan, those who are vegetarian,” Plauche says. “She fixes the healthiest meals, instead of a lot of the meals that we tend to provide that are quick and easy and full of sugar and salt.”

Cheever is a journalist and attorney with a strong interest in social justice. An opponent of the death penalty, she authored a book about men who got off death row.

Her passion for helping the needy came from her mother, Sally, who was “always taking care of people less fortunate, was always bringing food to people or slipping them some money,” she recalls.

She passed her mother’s lessons on to her own children, now 18 and 20, when they were younger.

“When I started to hear the whining, ‘I want, I want, I want,’ I always put on a pot of spaghetti sauce or chili or whatever and put them in the car, and we’d drive around to feed people,” she says.

Later, Cheever decided she wanted to feed people on a larger scale. An enthusiastic cook, she enrolled in classes at St. Philip’s College a few years ago “to be taken seriously and not injure anybody,” she says. “It was important to learn as much as I could about food and how to do healthy food and how to be creative.”

She’s on track to graduate in May with an associate’s degree in culinary arts.

Cheever had a taste of what it was like to be homeless last Easter, when she lived on the street for three days in Austin as part of a “street retreat” organized by Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a ministry that feeds people who are homeless.

“I learned a hot meal is really, really important,” she says.

She started the food truck last year. The first stop after the Chow Train was inspected and licensed by the city’s health department in May was Joplin, Mo., where a massive tornado had ripped through the town just days before. Survivors, volunteers and law enforcement ate from the truck.

During the Bastrop County wildfires in September, the Chow Train fed firefighters, residents and volunteers in Smithville.

The truck also supplied food to volunteers building a house in Floresville for a wounded warrior in January as part of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

Sometimes Cheever parks the truck at public events, such as Síclovía, and distributes food in exchange for donations.

Because the 14-foot trailer is unwieldy, on Tuesday nights, Cheever distributes food cooked in the truck from the back of her Honda SUV.

About half the people the Chow Train feeds on a regular basis are homeless, like Stephen Haskell.

“Chef Joan is off the hook,” Haskell says. “She’s the only one who’s ever been able to get me to eat beets and like them.”

Others have homes but can’t afford food, like James, who washes dishes at a River Walk restaurant and lives in a motel.

“The food is fresh,” James says of the Chow Train. “I’ve been at different feedings. It wasn’t fresh.”

Cheever says she has a mobile food vending permit, but not the special permit required to operate a mobile food establishment in the downtown central business district.

That doesn’t stop Cheever, who wears an apron reading, “I Feed the Hungry/Arrest Me!”

Mary Powers, a volunteer with the Catholic Worker House who has worked with Cheever, praises her dedication.

“She’s a ball of fire,” Powers says. “She has amazing energy. She’s an excellent cook, organizer and motivator for the volunteers and the people living on the street. She’s a fabulous voice for all of them.”

Recipes

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Applewood Bacon

Roasted Beets & Corn w/ Carmelized Pecans & Feta Cheese over Arugula w/ Janel’s Sherry Vinaigrette

Roasted Tomato-Poblano Soup with Queso Fresco

How Having a Sense of Purpose Can Help You Stay Healthy

The article below was written by Amy Norton and was originally published on HealthDay Reporter.

MONDAY, Nov. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Older adults with a strong sense of purpose in life may be particularly likely to get health screenings such as colonoscopies and mammograms, new research suggests.

The study, of more than 7,000 Americans, found that the higher people scored on a “purpose in life” scale, the more likely they were to get various screening tests over the next six years.

And while those purpose-driven people spent more time on preventive health care, they spent less time in the hospital, researchers reported online Nov. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Purpose in life” refers to a feeling that your life has direction and meaning, and your daily activities matter, according to lead researcher Eric Kim, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan.

Purpose, Kim said, is an important aspect of mental well-being — distinct from, say, general optimism.

“One reason,” he said, “is that as people age and retire, they can lose their sense of purpose somewhat.”

So researchers are interested in how that shift might affect older adults’ health. Past studies, Kim said, have already found that older adults with a strong sense of purpose have lower risks of heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

His team was interested in whether purpose-driven people make different decisions about preventive health care — which might help explain the lower disease risks.

The researchers analyzed data from 7,168 Americans aged 50 and older who took part in an ongoing health survey. That survey included some questions on purpose in life, asking people the extent to which they agreed with certain statements, such as: “I have a sense of direction and purpose in life,” and “My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me.”

In general, the study found, the higher people’s scores on the purpose scale, the greater their likelihood of getting a cholesterol test, colonoscopy, mammogram, Pap test or prostate exam over the next six years.

For example, about three-quarters of the study group got a cholesterol test. But the odds went up 18 percent for every point on the purpose scale, the investigators found.

The findings point to an association between purpose and health screenings, but not necessarily a cause-and-effect link, Kim acknowledged.

He added, though, that his team did account for several factors that could explain the link, including people’s education and wealth, and symptoms of depression or anxiety. But purpose, itself, was still tied to higher rates of health screenings in the study.

People with a strong sense of purpose were also less likely to land in the hospital. Over six years, participants spent an average of seven nights in the hospital; but that time dipped by 17 percent for every point on the purpose scale.

“My guess is that there are at least two possible explanations for these findings,” said James Maddux, university professor emeritus of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

One is that people with a sense of purpose want to be around for a long time, and in good shape. “They take care of their health because they want to prolong a life — and a healthy life — that they find meaningful,” said Maddux, who was not involved in the study.

Plus, he noted, people who actively search for meaning in life may be generally better at setting goals and making plans, including health care decisions.

According to Kim, there is still good news for people who lack a sense of purpose: “It can be increased,” he said.

Some studies have found that group therapy or less-formal techniques, like meditation, can help, according to Kim. And he said retired adults can find other activities to give their days direction and purpose, such as volunteering or taking classes.

Maddux agreed. “I think the take-away,” he said, “is that finding purpose and meaning in life has a lot of beneficial physical and psychological ‘side effects,’ beyond the good that may be done by meaningful activities themselves.”