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Attitude of gratitude is biologically healthy
Amy Choate-Nielsen learns that acts of thankfulness like making a gratitude list can have multiple health benefits. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
A few years ago, I sat on a yoga mat in a small studio and I took a deep breath.

It was something my instructor always told us to do at the end of our practice. After 90 minutes of moving myself in ways that almost always made me feel insufficient, I sat on my mat and, like usual, heard the instructions to inhale. Let it out all at once, she said, and take a moment to express appreciation to yourself for all the things your body can do. Like walk or blink. Or breathe.

Interestingly, I can easily shift my way into a place where my mind is filled with judgment, and gratitude is hard to find. But there is a different part of me where the bar is low. Where I dont expect so much of myself and others, and the little things are enough.

A moment in the day when the sun warmed my face, a time when I turned my head and my neck didnt hurt, a conversation with someone who made me smile in that humble, happy place, those are things that make me glad. Those are things that are part of the list I vowed to make for my great-grandmother Arizona Moritzky.

Those are also things that contribute to a healthy life.

According to Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and a leading expert on the science of gratitude, gratitude has specific biological impacts on the human body.

It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep, Emmons said in a feature on the UC Davis Medical Center web page. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment and regret.

Gratitude also lowers creatinine and is linked to a reduction of stress hormones, according to the UC Davis Medical Center feature.

Grateful people have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure compared to those less grateful, the feature says.

With that in mind, here is a list of 37 things for which Im grateful, in honor of my great-grandmother Arizona, who died two weeks after her 38th birthday, 103 years ago this week. In no particular order of importance, and off the top of my head, here goes:

37. Im still grateful for that bar of chocolate my daughter gave me on my birthday. Im more grateful for her than the chocolate, but that gesture has stayed with me. She makes me feel like theres so much good in the world and fills me with love. So, let me rephrase. Im grateful for my daughter.

36. Im grateful for my youngest son who always greets me with a smile in the morning as he wriggles into my bed, accidentally kicking me in the shins. He is my ray of sunshine my buddy and Im lucky to have him.

35. From the first time I saw my middle son, I felt like I would never be alone in this world again. He looks at me with his wide, brown eyes, and no matter his mischief, I must forgive him. It is an honor to hug his tiny body and kiss him goodnight at the end of every day.

34. I am grateful for the happy yellow flowers blooming in the mountains right now. Im grateful for the scent of juniper berries coming out of hiding, and the feel of cold canyon air rushing across the heat of a dirt trail. It revitalizes me.

33. Im grateful I met a fellow 14 years ago who became my best friend and greatest ally. He has kind eyes, a kinder heart and a sense of humor that makes me laugh until my face hurts.

32. Im grateful for my parents and siblings. They are the reason I have a low bar.

31. I am grateful for the feeling of a cool spring breeze drifting in through my window. This is my favorite time of year, and I have never loved April more.

30. Im grateful that in this moment, right now, my family is healthy and whole. I know that might not always be the case, and Im trying not to let my fear of the future cloud the reality of my present. In this moment, everything is OK, and I am thankful for that.

Gosh, Im running out of room. As I write this list, I find myself wanting to edit out the material things Im grateful for like my car, my house and my comforts but Im grateful for them too. Im grateful for my job, for blackberries and perfectly ripe blueberries and the way the sun looks when it sets every day. Im grateful for rain, for harmless thunder storms, for my toes that can pick a pencil off of the floor, for my legs that can run and carry me where I want to go and Im grateful for my lungs, that can hold a space for me, every day, to remember to appreciate what Ive been given.

Im grateful I can breathe.

Im grateful that tomorrow, I can take a deep breath and add to this list for Arizona. Let me rephrase.

Tomorrow, I will take a deep breath and feel appreciation for me.