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November 30, 2022

Guest Column | Gratitude Builds a Path Toward a Happier and Healthier Holiday

Each holiday season comes with high expectations for happy, carefree gatherings. It’s all too true, however, that once the calendar turns to November, feelings of sadness or anxiety can sometimes take hold.

Beyond major depression or severe anxiety disorders (which require professional help), it’s common for us to feel a bit overwhelmed or disconnected during the holiday season. Yet clinical research suggests that one particular aspect of Thanksgiving can actually lift our spirits at a crucial time. In fact, it’s built right into the holiday — gratitude.

The word itself comes from the Latin gratia, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. Doesn’t that sound like a path toward a happier and healthier holiday?

Research backs up these claims. Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. It helps us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve our health and build stronger relationships.

Not long ago a team of researchers from Indiana University recruited a few dozen subjects suffering from anxiety or depression. Half of this group were assigned a simple gratitude exercise (writing letters of thanks to important people in their lives). Three months later all the subjects underwent brain scans. Those who practiced the most gratitude revealed a particular pattern of activity in their brains.

What’s more, the participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also months later they still showed significant gratitude-related brain activity. Researchers described these “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects as significant.

In short, practicing gratitude seems to kick off a healthful, self-perpetuating cycle in our brains. So, as we gather for Thanksgiving as families and communities, may we all count our blessings one by one, because it makes it easier to notice them and count them later.

Personally, I give thanks for many things in my personal life, but I thought I’d share the Top 5 things I’m most grateful for in my professional capacity as CEO of Mee Memorial Healthcare System:

1) The dedicated MMHS team

I want to thank all of our employees for their hard work, their generosity and their willingness to go above and beyond to help ensure the health and wellness of our shared community. Each day we see the dedication and professionalism of a remarkable team that always puts the wellbeing of patients first. I thank them for standing strong and united in the face of tremendous adversity. Their love and hope keep shining through, and it’s amazing to witness.

2) Sixty years of health care

Back in the early 1960s, local rancher Tom Mee donated all the proceeds from a cattle sale (more than $150,000) to help build a hospital named after his late father George L. Mee. That was the humble yet inspired beginning to Mee Memorial Hospital. As we look back on 60 years of Mee Memorial, we realize that much has changed … yet much remains the same. Today we are still the only hospital within roughly 50 miles of the city, serving an area of several thousand square miles. I thank Mr. Mee and all the generous supporters through the years. It’s made all the difference in the world.

3) Our rural community

I am so very grateful for the wonderfully close-knit rural community we serve, and the spirit and resilience of the people who call South County home. There are unique challenges to living in rural areas, but so many more blessings. I try to count those blessings every day. There are many challenges in providing quality health care in a rural community. Sometimes it seems like an uphill battle, but we move forward, every day, to make sure people can not only survive, but thrive. To live their best lives, blessed with the knowledge, insight, respect and care they deserve.

4) Volunteerism

I’ve discovered through the years that the solution to many problems begins with someone raising their hand to say “I can help.” We have strong community support throughout MMHS, led by our amazing volunteers in the Service League. I am so thankful for those who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference in the health and well-being of our friends and neighbors in southern Monterey County. From operating the gift shop to staffing the information desk and hosting fundraisers, our volunteers bring smiles to the faces of patients and help improve employee morale. What a gift!

5) Flu shots and vaccines

Despite the many benefits offered by flu vaccines, only about half of Americans get an annual shot, and flu continues to cause millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths. Many more people could be protected from flu if more people got vaccinated. I am thankful for the science behind these safe and effective vaccines. Our best defense is a flu vaccine, so this winter, protect yourself and your loved ones by taking one in the arm!

At Mee Memorial Healthcare System, we all stand together and proud around our quest to provide “health care with heart.” Thank you for allowing us to serve you, and for making us ever mindful of our purpose.

As we gather with our families and friends may we give thanks for that privilege, and what it took to get there. From all of us at Mee Memorial, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving filled with abundance, blessings and bright moments — along with good health through the gift of gratitude.

Rena Salamacha
CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System
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