5 Minutes a Day
By Courtney Snyder, MD
I never like to hear, “You should….," Whether it’s a well intended friend, or a facebook link on how to “IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH IN JUST 5 MINUTES A DAY.” The suggestion that anyone knows the right answer for all of us is annoying. When it comes to health and happiness, there's no one size fits all. Some of us need more protein, some of us need more vegetables; some of us need to minimize toxic exposures, some are less vulnerable; some of us need more routine, some of us need more spontaneity; some of us need more self care, some of us need to give more of ourselves; some of us need better boundaries, some of us need more connection. Within each of us is a knowing of where that balance is. The trick is being open to new information, while trusting and listening to that knowing part of ourselves.
All that being said, I do believe that whoever you are, IF YOU DO THIS ONE THING FIVE MINUTES A DAY, IT WILL IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH AND HAPPINESS! If you think you just heard the enthusiastic voice of the television spokeswoman selling the latest exercise gadget, then you've heard correctly.
For the exercise I'm promoting, you just need a piece of paper and something to write with. List five things you are grateful for at the end of each day - something that happened, something you saw, something you ate, or felt, ...someone’s expression. Stop there, expand on those items or send a thank you note to someone involved.
The link between gratitude and happiness and health may be obvious for some, but for many of us, having that motivation to take five minutes requires science...hard science. Positive psychology is the scientific study of those who are thriving. Some of the strongest research in this field has been done in the area of gratitude. Robert Emmons PhD, at UC Davis, is the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude. He and other researchers have found consistently and overwhelmingly that those who use very simple gratitude practices are:
Gratitude is simple and accessible.... to everyone - not just the enlightened or the religious. It is part of the human experience - just as eating, moving and sleeping are. If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider the daily life of someone who is ungrateful. Really think about their physical and emotional health and their relationships. That kind of life is not what nature intended. While most religions have gratitude practices built in, you don’t have to believe or even consider a higher power to know that many, if not most, of the good things in our lives, lie outside of us and are either given to us by others, or by nature (or beyond depending on our beliefs). While gratitude is joyful, it is also a humble reminder that “it’s not all about us.”
Gratitude elegantly connects our mind and body. The simple act of writing down 5 "grateful's" doesn't just lift our mood, it rewires our brain. We start to scan our days, our world and our lives differently. There are plenty of us who can excel at identifying, judging and picking apart all the negatives in our days. But are those the neuronal connections that we really want to strengthen? If you tend in this direction, you may want to “Fake it ‘til you make it” and practice noticing the good in your life. Give this practice at least 4 weeks for it to become habit - for those neuroplastic changes to occur.... Then keep doing it.
Helping a child create this habit will serve them now and into their future. It may even save their life. Share "grateful's" at dinner, at bedtime or write them down and put them in a glass jar to serve as a reminder that life is about abundance - not scarcity and that life is a gift.
The below 9 minute interview is of one of my medical school professors. Dr. Frank Kretzer lived a life of gratitude - one that many of us are extremely grateful for. Here, knowing he's dying, he talks about life, death, family, excellence and pursing your passion.
(The lines he's referencing come from Lord Alfred Tennyson.)
“Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.”
8/20/2015 01:09:04 am
everyone should hear this wonderful video! I will be sharing and posting this to my friends and family. Thanks for sharing your memory and your positive experience you have had with this incredible human being. Heaven, if we believe in such a place will be overjoyed to share his energy and light with the universe.
8/20/2015 04:05:07 am
Thanks, Gabby. Though his great enthusiasm and sense of humor were fading, his generosity and love of life had not. So fitting for him to be teaching, even after his death.
8/20/2015 11:35:48 pm
This is such a refreshing blog highlighting the small changes people can make that make a big difference in mood/anxiety/happiness. So often I hear from my clients of psychiatrists who just add another pill to the handful without looking outside the prescription pad for other options. I fully believe in the necessity of medication for many; I also believe in the power of therapy, positive psychology, and holistic care. Can you send me some business cards so I can refer folks your way? My address is on the website. Thanks!
8/21/2015 10:53:59 am
Thank you, Amy. I'm happy to send you some cards. Please let me know if you'd like to meet in person at some point. I don't think we're very far from one another.
Mary Alyce Neji
3/5/2022 04:37:28 pm
The blog is so uplifting. I have practiced gratitude my entire adult life. When I feel sad or discouraged, I will start a mantra in my head "Go to Gratitude" and will think of something I'm grateful for. I've order Dr. Emmons book from the library. Thanks, Dr. Courtney!!
3/10/2022 08:16:00 am
Thank you for your kind comment and for sharing your experience with a gratitude practice. Your comment reminds of something I've been learning about more recently - "radical gratitude." This is about having gratitude even for uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings. For me this new layer has been very powerful. I'm so glad you find this blog uplifting. Warm regards, Courtney
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Courtney Snyder, MD
I'm a conventionally trained child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist. My current approach to health is both holistic (pertaining to the whole person) and functional (addressing the root causes of illness). I write this blog to share what I've learned.