Giving Thanks is Good Medicine
This is the time of year when we take some time to reflect on all we have to be grateful for. It’s a ritual that, for many, has become rote and something we don’t really pay much attention to. But numerous scientific studies have shown that gratitude is something we should practice every day. Here are just some of the ways practicing gratitude can improve your health.
You’ll feel better about life
Dr. Robert Emmons, considered by many to be one of the leading experts on gratitude and a professor of psychology at the University of California–Davis has conducted numerous studies on how giving thanks affects our health and well-being. His studies have concluded that people who practice gratitude on a regular basis feel better about their lives, are more optimistic about the future, have fewer health problems, and get more sleep.
Your heart will become healthier
The American Psychological Association conducted a study where researchers discovered that heart patients who were more grateful had better moods, higher quality sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers which can often worsen heart health. “We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk,” said Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California–San Diego. He concluded that “it seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart.”
You may live longer
Gratitude increases optimism and, according to a Scandinavian study of people age 85 and older, those who felt more optimistic about life lived an average of five years longer than their pessimistic counterparts.
Many people find it difficult to practice gratitude. The day-to-day challenges of life can sometimes be overwhelming and we all have days when it seems like there’s just nothing to be thankful for. Here are some tips to support you in cultivating gratitude into your daily life.
Keep a gratitude journal
We all have something to be thankful for. Actually becoming conscious of that and making note of it can produce some positive health effects. In the Paul Mills study mentioned above, researchers discovered that those participants who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reduced cardiac risk. Mills concluded that “gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health.”
Surround yourself with things that make you grateful
Once you’ve identified those things for which you’re grateful, make a conscious effort to bring those things into your life. If the actual thing isn’t available, create a visual cue. This could be a photograph of a loved one or favorite pet, a post-it note with a list, or a souvenir from a wonderful vacation.
Verbalize your gratitude
One day, make it a goal to say “thank you” to people who’ve done you a service or for whom you feel appreciation. Acknowledging the support of others may help you recognize all you have to be grateful for.