It is so cliche to say that the best things in life are free, but there is value in being thankful for things that we sometimes can take for granted:
- Air — I was speaking with a friend who lives in the Bay Area and when I asked how she was doing, we spent a fair amount of time on how grateful she is that the air is clearing up. We so take for granted breathable air, but when its gone, we quickly realize that it is pretty much the most important thing. It reminded me of what the air was like here in New York City in the days and weeks after 9/11. That for me was a huge moment of clarity that air quality is so important-and you only really notice it when its gone.
- Sleep — We know we feel horrible when we are sleep-deprived, but it is worse than that. Lack of sleep ages our bodies and makes us ill. Men who routinely sleep 4–5 hours a night will have a testosterone level comparable to someone ten years their senior. Similar issues appear in women as well. Even relatively small changes in sleep patterns have a big impact. In the Spring when we lose one hour of sleep from Daylight Savings, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks the next day. When we gain one hour of sleep in the Fall, we see a 21% reduction in heart attacks. Sleep- it’s free and it feels good. What could be better?
- Water — Being hydrated also makes us feel great and helps our bodies to work well. When I was a kid, the idea that anyone would buy water was ludicrous — obviously that is no longer always the case. But here in New York, the tap water is good so water is something we can generally enjoy in a relatively unlimited way.
- Friendship and Hugs- there have been so many studies done on the need for social interaction, and particularly on how important it is to promote healthy aging. We have also seen during these COVID days how important it is for kids to have peers to play with. Lockdowns notwithstanding, most of the time we can interact freely with people, and it does our hearts good- and we are reminded with social distancing how nice it is to get a really big, heartfelt hug.
- Prayer, meditation, reflection- whatever your flavor of connecting with something bigger than yourself is, the impact on stress levels, heart rate, and peace has been shown to be material.
- Exercise- of course you can spend a fortune on exercise, but you don’t have to. Walking and stretching are two things that are definitely free. Running may require good shoes and a pick up game of basketball requires a ball, but for the most part there are plenty of ways to keep moving- even raking leaves or washing the car can count. It feels good too! Not everyone can exercise- someone very close to me is bed-ridden and I know that can be a huge challenge. But moving as much as we can for as long as we can definitely improves the quality of life.
- Smiling- You can spread joy in the world around you, whether its at the checkout counter at the grocery store or just walking down the street. A smile or a kind word can really lift someone else up, and it is just as easy to be pleasant as it is to be unpleasant, and it makes your day better too!
- Library books- Reading opens up worlds and opportunities that can change lives and minds and enrich our existence. Taking the time to get a library card- and using it- is priceless. Also many libraries also have videos and other forms of entertainment for check out.
- Parks and other outdoor venues — not everyone lives near a nice outdoor space, but even in the concrete jungle of New York, some beautiful outdoor vistas are a walk (or maybe a subway ride) away. Communing with nature can completely change a person’s outlook, and just looking at green trees or other natural vistas can calm a soul.
Developing an attitude of gratitude is something that we can cultivate, and it brings joy to our own lives and to the people we encounter.