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Column: Learning to be thankful can improve your life

Jonna Kane MacDougall
November 23, 2011
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Quality of LifeI was pleased to learn about the attorney wellness initiative currently being undertaken by the Indiana State Bar Association. The organization hopes to promote a healthier lifestyle for those who work in the legal profession by “encouraging positive lifestyle changes through increased physical activity, stress reduction, healthier eating and tobacco cessation.” This much-needed effort for Hoosier attorneys, paralegals, legal staff members and law students could go a long way in helping legal professionals to lead longer and happier lives.

According to research conducted within the past decade, one way to boost your immune system and also relieve stress is to develop an “attitude of gratitude” in your daily life. It seems appropriate to investigate this form of stress relief now in the days surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.

A relatively recent movement in the world of psychology called “positive psychology” has produced research that shows that people who are routinely grateful for what they have in life are healthier than those who do not make a conscious effort to acknowledge the positive aspects of their lives. Much of this research has been done by University of California Davis professor Robert Emmons. According to Emmons, grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet and regular physical examinations.

Studies in the past few years have shown that consciously grateful people are more optimistic and more energetic. They are also less likely to be depressed, thereby avoiding a plethora of physical ailments that coincide with depression.

We all know that stress can make us sick – it’s linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer. Interestingly, gratitude can help us better manage stress. According to Emmons, gratitude research suggests that feelings of thankfulness have a significant positive effect in terms of coping with daily problems and stress.

So why not start this Thanksgiving to become a more grateful person? Don’t turn off the gratitude after the turkey is gone and the football games are over. Below are some methods to try to develop an attitude of gratitude.

Maintain a gratitude journal. Research shows that those who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis feel better about their lives as a whole and maintain greater optimism about the future.

Create a list of all of the good things in your life. Review the list and determine if you take these things for granted. Become more mindful about the wonderful things that exist in your life.

If you really want to be creative, write down something about your life that appears, on its face, to be very negative. Think about ways that you could turn that negative into a positive, ways that you could make the negative issue less pervasive in your life or as a friend told me recently, “I try to find a way to hit the ‘minimize button, like the one on my computer, to help me keep negative issues in perspective.’”

Positive self-talk is also a good way to acknowledge the positive developments in your life. If you find it hard to identify beneficial things in your life right now, start small. I often say thank you, out loud, when I approach a traffic light that turns green right in front of me. (Okay, so maybe that sounds a little desperate for good things – but it works!)

Find ways to be thankful for the people in your life – even those people who drive you crazy. Remember that the really cranky, nasty person at work helps you to develop tolerance and patience. It’s all in how you look at it.•

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Jonna Kane MacDougall, an Indianapolis attorney, is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis and a former law school career services director. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-370-4361 or via email at whatsnextcoaching@gmail.com. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

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