Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are Canadians Healthier and Happier?

My family and I recently returned from vacationing in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. We enjoyed the sun, surf, and the slow of beach life. It's the slow that's really refreshing. Time standing still as my boys and I wrestled the crashing waves and my wife and I walking, talking - unhurried. Around the pool, we met a number of people, many Canadian. Apparently, New Smyrna beach is becoming a vacation hot spot for our neighbors to the North. The Canadians that we met were strikingly relaxed, joyful, pleasant, and social. They were sincerely kind. They seemed grateful, living life full. It was a healthy atmosphere.

The psychological benefits of gratitude are increasingly well noted. Emmos and McCullough (2003) conducted a series of experiments that found "the experience of gratitude leads to positive psychological, physical, and social outcomes... participants who were asked to think about what they were grateful for, experienced greater levels of optimism, positive mood, and feelings of belongingness [compared other control groups]..." (2009, Clay Routledge Ph.D. in Death Love Sex Magic). In addition, the participants who were focused on gratitude reported being physically healthier and said that they spent more time exercising. Routledge concludes, "The take home message is that being grateful is good for you and those around you."

In addition to carrying hearts of gratitude, simply being kind produces significant healthy benefits. According to www.giftofkindness.com, scientific research has shown that acts of kindness help to improve stress-related health problems, improve feelings of depression, reduce the unhealthy sense of isolation, decrease the intensity and awareness of physical pain, and increase the sense of self-worth, …happiness, and optimism. (Allan Luks, The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others). Luks's concludes, "Helping contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor, psychological and physical."

My new Canadian friends appeared happier and healthier than many of the Americans I know, many of whom wilt beneath the weight of life that they carry. Could the apparent wellness of the vacationing Canadians be tied to their kind and thankful hearts?

USA Today writer Jayne Clark noticed a similar difference with Canadian neighbors. She said, "I'm just back from a week in Atlantic Canada and I'd have to say... Canadians are nicer... they're more trusting... they do illustrate a tendency to assume the other guy (or gal) isn't out to get the best of you... And that attitude was refreshing." (Aug 2011).

I know a few Canadians here at home. Two are pastors. One is in education. Another is a writer. I don't know the writer, but I've read her work, so we'll call her another Canadian friend. Each of them have huge hearts of gratitude and are extraordinarily kind. The writer even wrote a book about it, counting the daily gifts of grace. In many cases, their lives are slower, yet fuller; their days less scheduled, yet richer. They seem healthy and happy.

Anecdotally, my Canadians friends seem to hold life loosely, savoring the gifts each day brings and embracing the stillness that fosters gratitude and kindness, all this elevating wellness. In a recent blog, Canadian author Ann Voskamp says, "Life is not an emergency... Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time's river slows, slows, slows... I am accepting the whole of the moment, weighing it down with me all here. This giving thanks for one thousand things, it's that too, an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention... You can only hear your life sing - when you still.”

This stillness, it’s a lesson taught for thousands of years that we long to learn yet consistently crowd out of our lives. “Be still,” God says, “and know [me].” Psalm 46:10

Sounds like a prescription to a healthier life, eh?

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