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Life gets hard. Sadly, the rigors of day-to-day living often make it seem harder. A crossword at the office; a ding in your door in the parking lot; a coffee stain on your new jacket; these "tragedies" when they descend relentlessly on you; may create stress and negatively affect your health. How can you combat them? The cure is quite simple: discover gratitude.

 One of the most powerful forces for a healthy life lies within our daily grasp. Studies repeatedly have shown that a sense of gratitude is beneficial not only for your outlook, but for your general health. As an example of the uplifting nature of gratitude, think about the last dreary, overcast day you experienced. In the morning, it might have been novel and even relaxing. However, as the day wore on, you probably felt your spirits dip; you became gloomy. Then, late in the afternoon there was a break in the clouds, and a ray of sunshine gleamed. Immediately, your mood uplifted; you felt relief, joy, and gratitude.

Scientists can explain this reaction on a chemical or molecular level, but that does not matter. Intuitively, you know that, in that moment of release from a single ray of sunlight, your health and well-being shot upward. Your health improved. You may have taken a deep, healing breath. If you took the time, you would have seen that your blood pressure dropped, as did your pulse; you certainly became more relaxed.

Wouldn't it be nice if this were the constant state of your health? It can be, and it is totally within your control. How you respond to stress -- more important, how you create stress is completely up to you. It is a learned response and condition.

If someone cuts you off in afternoon traffic, do you tense up, honk, and yell? That negativity compromises your health, and the effect is cumulative. Instead try to handle the situation quickly and calmly. Then as you drive from it  (unharmed), take a breath, glance upward with a sense of gratitude, and know that you are OK.

One valuable characteristic of religion is the lesson it teaches to be accepting of the world around you. Inevitably, many things are out of your control. The difference is in how you react how you handle the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Whether or not the power to be instilled in you the capability to be grateful or it is an evolved trait, the outcome is the same: well-being and the knowledge that, in spite of the setbacks, you will survive. In fact, you will thrive.

There is truth in the statement, "Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger." You can amplify this knowledge by understanding that a sense of gratitude -- gratitude for the ability to face adversity and come away stronger or with more understanding-makes you healthier. It makes you a survivor.

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