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Gratitude: a healthy recipe for Thanksgiving

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Her physician challenged her to resist the temptation to "live as an invalid," and she went on first to volunteer with disabled people and then to open a small placement agency. The firm has since grown, and Bender has been awarded and cited for her work, locally as well as nationally, from White Houses both Republican and Democratic.

"The more gratitude you have, the more successful your life becomes," she says.

Medical science recognizes gratitude

Indeed, the grateful may be their own best friends.

Gregory Fricchione, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says gratitude is a key component of resilience, a person's ability to withstand stress – to swing with inclement weather, as a bridge does, and "give yet not break." Without resilience, he says, the 50-year-old, with three kids in college, who gets a pink slip "would be a basket case before noon."

The stress of rejection – being fired, for instance – is especially painful and may have a longer recovery time than other kinds of stress, he says. And while making a list of blessings wouldn't be the medical cure for major depression, and while it's difficult to feel grateful during the initial "shock wave" of the pain, a cycle of healing may start with something simple: "When you wake up, it's helpful if you have something you look forward to," suggests Dr. Fricchione.

Medical scientists, too, believe they are able to trace the beneficial effects of gratitude in humans. Thankfulness may work in the same manner spiritual and religious ideas do, speculates Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College in Philadelphia. While scientists have yet to conduct specific brain studies on the physiological effects of thankfulness, they have found that intense focus on positive things, such as the favor of a friend, causes the positive thinking – or positive neural pathways, as medical science terms it – to engage. You not only appreciate the favor and the friend, but you strengthen the process itself, making it easier to see experiences in a positive way in the future, says Dr. Newberg.

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