What It Means to Be Thankful for Your Health

ThankfulThink back to the last time you had a major cold or flu – the last time you had a fever and body aches so bad your hair hurt. The thousand daggers in your throat, the puffy, burning eyes, the roaring headache, the plugged sinuses and clogged lungs, the crippling fatigue. In the throes, you likely couldn’t imagine (as most of us do) what it was ever like to be healthy. You could scarcely remember what life had been like three days ago when you were lifting weights, lifting your kids, laughing at work, entertaining at home, sleeping soundly. Fast forward, and it’s a Bermuda Triangle of mental discouragement and physical misery. And this is just a cold or flu… (Many people deal with so much worse….) Still, it’s a relatable illustration of an all too common truth: we tend to take our health for granted until it’s suddenly gone.

Three days prior we may have felt good about our workout performance – or finished it off grudgingly (or opted to skip it entirely.) We may have gotten out of bed noticing we’d had a pretty good night’s sleep – or already been too lost in negative anticipation of the work day ahead to let ourselves feel good. We might’ve appreciated having the energy to keep up with the kids during some sledding or tag at the park – or felt distracted by stress and spent much of the time managing the world on our phones or running through imagined conversations in our heads. Is anything sounding familiar? In a regular day we barely if at all notice our health – until or unless its limitations disrupt our routine or intentions.

What does it mean to be thankful for your health? A lot, I think. At its most basic level it can be a “There but by the grace of God go I” feeling we get when someone we know dies of a heart attack or gets cancer. The news jolts us into awareness of our mortality, health being what keeps us on the other side.

Being thankful for our health, however, means more than gratitude for being alive itself. On yet another level, it means appreciating the capacities allowed by our health – the cognitive ability to practice our profession and remember our children’s names, the physical ability to walk up six flights of stairs when the elevator is being serviced (or when we just feel like it). It’s the security of knowing we can travel to remote places and deal with whatever conditions we encounter. It’s the freedom to put on a pair of skates or skis and try something new without getting wrapped around fear of frailty. It’s about confidence that we have the strength to move most of our own stuff when need arises and take care of our children, tend to our property, and still have energy to enjoy something of everyday life.

Yet, I’d suggest health is even more than capacity itself – more than living, more than functioning. By extension, being thankful for our health means recognizing the deeper dimensions of health itself.

A couple of weeks ago I differentiated health as an absence of obvious symptoms from vitality as a kind of full actualization of energy that feeds all areas of self and life. When we look at health from this vantage point, the question becomes whether we’re living out our well-being. If being grateful for something means appreciating it, are we living in full appreciation of our health or are we taking it for granted, leaving many layers of experience and capacity unexplored – and thereby, unacknowledged.

I’m not trying to evoke any metaphysical suggestion here, but humor me with the illustration for a moment. Let’s say you gave two people the same gift. One person graciously thanked you in the moment but put it in the basement where it collected dust for a few decades. The other offered the same gratitude and put it in his/her living space, using it every day in some way for those decades. Who is more thankful, appreciative of the gift?

I think it’s common to give lip service about gratitude for our health. We’re thankful of course – in theory. Might I suggest that gratitude is something we discover through practice in a lifetime of layers with deeper knowledge and familiarity, through challenge and peak moments – maybe not unlike a rich relationship.

Sometimes I think people cut themselves off from this depth of gratitude by living outside of their bodies to some extent – as a result of trauma, distress or distortion. They take a parsing, hypervigilant, corrective perspective on their bodies and their condition – the body as something to be whipped into shape, deprived, pushed and monitored. That kind of animosity, I’ve found, tends to camouflage some sort of deep-seated fear.

When we allow ourselves to wholly appreciate our health – appreciation being the full living out of gratitude, we use and develop our infinite capacities and likewise find infinite joy in its pleasures. Let’s face it – a utilitarian take on health cuts our physical experience off at the knees. We can not only allow ourselves to enjoy the little things – the sun on your back, the feeling of human touch, the runner’s high, a nap’s recharge, a holiday meal’s flavor, the mind’s recollections. In combination with our physical capacities, they’re all part of our inclusive health.

As so many of us celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I’d offer this challenge to everyone today. Make the choice to cultivate gratitude for your health. Be more present to your health every day. Explore and expand your abilities. Live out your appreciation for your physical potential by developing it action by action, experiment by experiment. Embrace the small pleasures and challenge yourself to reach for even intimidating achievements and intermittent euphoria.

Make a list later tonight (or whenever you’re moved to do so) of all that your health as done for you this year. What has your health allowed you to try, to experience, to practice, to see, to explore, to feel, to accomplish, to share, to create?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And let me offer my gratitude to each of you for your support and contributions to this community. From the beginning, this blog was a labor of love, so to speak, and what a vision it’s become – because of you all. Best wishes, and thanks for reading. Enjoy your holiday and end to the week.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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28 thoughts on “What It Means to Be Thankful for Your Health”

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    1. I have chronic migraine, reduced now from 200 pain days/year to ~75, but oh, the sweetness of the day that I wake after an attack ends! No matter how weak and shaky I am, I’m always flooded with deep thankfulness for the beauty of the world that I’ve re-entered, and for my body’s ability to rise again and again.

  1. I suffered a retinal detachment three months ago and I’m so grateful when I open my eyes everyday and I can see! I’m also grateful that my Fibromyalgia has improved so much since adopting a Primal lifestyle.

  2. Helping people who are in pain on a daily basis continually puts things in perspective for me. I’m thankful for that and for being able to help them!

  3. Staying healthy, is a state of mind as much as a state of body. Or in the words of Thales of Miletus (Greece 624 – 546 BC): “Mens sana in corpore sano – A sound mind in a sound body”.

    Many years have past, since I last had a cold and I attribute that to Primal living. Sports injuries is a different matter (:

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

  4. I’m thankful for neural plasticity. Here’s a poem about it, depicted as an Earth metaphor.
    Also thankful for this comments section, because the poem is one of my favourite things I’ve written, even if it might not mean anything to anyone else. I thought of pasting it here recently and this post seems just appropriate enough for it not to be pure spam. I came up with it walking home one day down a long country road after spending some time in town a two hour walk away (since I had no bike to use). I was bored and started kind of daydreaming about the earth’s layers, and thinking all I was doing was dully and doggedly beating my feet on the pavement so I could get home and have fun, sending faint waves through the ground.

    Deep beneath the beating feet
    Under crust with craggy teeth
    Magma boils, churns, and seeps
    Eager to go back to sleep
    Plaster cracks
    Make granite meet
    Solidify this Earthly seat.

    1. Blessed are the poets.
      I second your gratitude for neuroplasticity. Let’s revel in the mysteries of growth.

  5. Spectacular post, mate!

    BTW I have just looped this article in on our latest Testosterone-filled Turkey linkfest!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Thanks to the Blueprint I have not been sick for 4 years, headaches gone, energy off the charts and feeling 30 years younger. Yes, I am grateful for a lot. Thanks to this community too. Rock the Grok!

  7. On this Thanksgiving, a big THANK YOU to you, Mark Sisson! For all the help you have offered!

  8. Here’s to the flesh and the beauty of life.

    I am grateful to be woman, flush with primal, instinctive passion and femininity.

    I am grateful to have discovered this beautiful oasis knowing I shall drink deeply.

    And I am grateful to you Mark, for your generosity more precious than gold.

    May each soul here be blessed with Joy, well-being and the sleep of a babe.

    I raise my glass to new friendships, discoveries and transformation.

  9. Thank you Mark for sharing your knowledge and wisdom so generously with us!

  10. With primal aligned living, my adult acne pretty much disappeared, which was nice for vanity reasons. But the best is that my PMS symptoms went away. I used to get major, MAJOR cramps and breast tenderness. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable, no, incapacitated, I would get every… single… month. Sometimes up to several days. Even over-the-counter pills wouldn’t make me feel much better. Since I now live Primal aligned, I barely even notice my symptoms and I take zero pills. 6+ months strong… Thank Goodness!

  11. I’m thankful for the new immune system this way of eating has built. My entire family got taken down by a 24-hour stomach bug. I caught it too, but it had the same effect on me as horse laxatives had on Major Payne – that is to say ‘very little’. Had the gurgles in my tummy for a few hours, then slept it off while a fever killed it.
    My kindergartner’s description of how and where every kid in her class got sick was entertaining though. Almost makes up for her bringing it home.

  12. Having had my 2 children in my late thirties and early forties I am grateful for the increasing vitality that I have now in my early sixties, (mainly due to primal eating and keeping moving). So although I am old enough to be their grandmother, I still feel young in mind spirit and body, can keep up with them on the occasional bike ride or hill walk, and generally share their enthusiasm for life – in fact maybe that’s the best thing, having enough energy to still feel curious about life and also to be resilient when having to cope with the inevitable problems that it throws up.

  13. I believe that gratitude means acknowledging, using, and benefitting from something, and often giving something worthwhile in return. I am grateful to Mark Sisson for the happiness I have found in the last year and a half since Primal. The journey and every step on the way is mine, but he set down the first piece of the path for me to find.

    Thanks, dude. Thanks a lot. I’ll buy your stuff when I can, and I’ll be grateful for that too.

  14. I am very grateful for the health of my family, my health and vitality, enabling me to work to provide for my family of five, and to further my education at this later stage of life. I feel waaayyy younger/healthier/more resilient than most of my (even younger) peers, and I hope to enjoy my present and future to the fullest!
    I do take the random moment to appreciate the beautiful sunrise or sunset, the ocean in its many phases and moods, the woods in 4 seasons of glory, the peace and silence…anywhere I might find it. I love the smell of books in the library, the way the earth smells when i plant things, and the way the rain scrubs the air clean. I do believe in being “present” to fully appreciate each moment…even though my mind wants to race ahead to the 1000 things that need attention, the here and now is all that really matters.

  15. Thanks Mark, family and worker bees for all of the good that you do.

  16. After recovering from my first about of arthritis 16 years ago making a fist was my way of being thankful: I was able to make a fist again. Nowadays I’m happy for having slept 7 hours a night.

    Thanks to Mark’s Daily Apple, Chris Kresser and Rob Wolff I now sleep again regularly and don’t have zombie days so much anymore.

    Happy thanksgiving!

  17. It is hard for me to put into words what my Primal has done for me and my family’s healing and health.

    It has resulted in near perfect health for me as I haven’t gotten sick in a year and half, and all chronic ailments gone. Many of them significant.

    Also the mental, personality impacts have been as significant. Primal heals the body, grateful for that. It also heals or perhaps actualizes the mind, centers the personality.

    Beyond words Thankful for this, wishing everyone well on their journeys.

  18. I also feel thankful for you and your work. I sent you a “success story” letter a few weeks back of how my health has turned around. I’ve suffered from obesity my whole life with every side effect that comes with it. You’re the best and thank you for everything you do for the people you can’t even see.

  19. Parallels with electric power abound. We don’t even think about flipping on lights and the furnace turning on… until the storm comes and the lights go out and the temperature in the house slowly sinks. We had 36 hours without power, including Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful for both health and electric power to get things done!

  20. I am thankful for Mark’s Daily Apple, the Weston A. Price folks, and everyone who posts their primal success stories. And to Google for helping me stumble across them when I didn’t even know what I was looking for! This corner of the Internet was a miraculous answer to some big health prayers. A few years ago, MDA persuaded me to leave 21 years of vegetarianism behind. I have never been healthier or happier! Thank you, Mark Sisson and ALL the paleo recipe posters out there.

  21. I am grateful to have found that too much starch in the diet makes my muscles and joints hurt. I decided to “challenge” this theory by eating everything on Thanksgiving, mainly to see if I could get away with a little dressing, mashed potatoes, pie, etc.

    Bad idea. I was sore and achy all over the day after, including a minor flare-up of IBS. I immediately went back to my 90/10 Paleo diet, starting with a short fast to calm my stressed-out gut. The results were remarkable. Pain began to disappear and I once again have a GI tract that functions as it’s supposed to.

    BTW, there are proven scientific reasons as to why starchy food is bad for some of us. If you have AS (Ankylosing Spondylitis) or any other form of autoimmune arthritis, or if you have sporadic, unexplained aches and pains, check out the KickAS.org website.

  22. I’m thankful for the Paleo diet. I’m healthier because of it. I now feel better so I can work out more. I’m into muscle building and the Paleo diet is the only way to go. Thanks, Mark