Gratitude & health

The Heart of Good Health is Gratitude

“Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” ~ John Henry Jowett, 1863–1923

What have you been thankful for lately? With the current state of the world, it may be difficult to find those small things that fill your heart with appreciation and joy. But what if being thankful could help you be more healthy and support your immune system? Would you try a bit more to find gratitude in your everyday life?

Everyone is taught from an early age to say “thank you” to others. Thankfulness is just the beginning. As we get older, we begin to understand that there is more to gratitude than just saying the words. As an emotion, a mood, and a personality trait gratitude is, as Cicero said, “not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”

When you’ve got an “attitude of gratitude” you’re more oriented towards noticing the positive in the world. As a personality trait, people who are grateful are more likely to see their life as a series of experiences for which they are thankful. While some people may struggle to see life’s blessings, people who live a life of gratitude feel a sense of wonder and appreciation for every day.

You may have heard about the studies analyzing the link between gratitude and mental well being. A grateful outlook on life leads to peace of mind, happiness, and deeper more satisfying personal relationships. For example, one study asked a group to write about something they were grateful for each week for 10 weeks, a second group wrote about irritations during the same time frame. At the conclusion of the 10 weeks, the participants who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and had a more positive outlook about their lives.

“Creating space for gratitude in our lives shifts our thoughts off what we don’t have and instead focuses on what is going well,” said Rita Zeller, GraceMed Director of Behavioral Health, “We can embrace how we use that strength to impact other areas of our lives.”

More research into the effects of gratitude has shown that an attitude of gratitude can also influence your physical health. Gratitude has been tied to better sleep, less fatigue, and lower levels of systemic inflammation (Huffman et. al 2005). Observational studies have seen an association between gratitude and improved health behaviors like adhering to the directions a doctor has given. Another study found that participants who made an effort to say thank you each day reported fewer headaches or symptoms of illness like congestion, sore throats, or stomach pains (Emmons McCullough 2003). And while there is room for more investigation into the relationship between gratitude and physical health, there are several studies that have implied strong correlations of gratitude to health.

Dr. Julie Elder, Chief Medical Officer

At GraceMed clinics, we also see the effects that gratitude has when visiting with patients.

“There is definitely a connection between mind and body,” said Dr. Julie Elder, Chief Medical Officer, “we know that when patients have a positive outlook and sincere appreciation for life they have less physical symptoms.”

 

The results of some studies suggest that grateful individuals have better health because of their improved psychological health which leads to healthy activities and a willingness to ask for help with health concerns. Whether gratitude improves health because of the positive attitude that goes with it or you’re more grateful because you’re in good health, either way, it’s plain that there is a benefit to practicing gratitude.

How can you develop gratitude as a personality trait and reap the benefits?

There are several ways to incorporate more gratitude into your life:

  • Start simply by saying thank you. Say it whenever you have the smallest opportunity and in every situation.
    Along with this is accepting gratitude when someone thanks you. Don’t shrug it off with a “no problem,” actually say “you’re welcome.”
  • Write thank-you notes. The exercise of thinking through and writing out the words reinforces gratitude. Not into writing? Then send thank you emails. Need help writing a thank you note? Here are some examples.
  • Practice guided meditation focused on gratitude.  This is one meditation to help you get started. 
  • Keep a gratitude journal. If you’re not great at journaling, begin and end each day by saying out loud 3 things that were good each day. By hearing yourself say the words it further embeds the grateful feelings.
  • Volunteer. By putting yourself in positions that show you what others lack, you are better able to see what you have to be thankful for. And, when you are thanked by those you help, you’ll be inspired to help more and connect with others giving you additional positive outcomes.
  • Surround yourself with people who have a grateful disposition. Know that friend who always tells you what they are grateful for? How about the one who is always talking about blessings? Those are the people who can help you learn to appreciate the small things and live a life of gratitude.
  • Experience different cultures. When you are able to see what people in other cultures appreciate, you are much more aware of what you may be taking for granted in your own life.
  • Pray. Because it so often includes thanking the Lord for blessings prayer cultivates gratitude. Even simple prayers asking for relief or resolution can bring a sense of calm and appreciation that you have a heavenly Father to go to in troubled times.

There is no doubt that we are living through uncharted territory. For the first time in most of our lives, the path forward is unclear from one day to the next. Any of the above suggestions can help improve your ability to recognize opportunities to feel grateful. Rita sums it up well in one statement: “Happiness does not exist in the absence of gratitude.”