Is giving thanks good for your health? More and more research is indicating that practicing gratitude can have a significant impact on a person’s health and overall well-being.
Gratitude helps us feel more connected with ourselves and our environment. It essentially has the opposite effect on the body as stress, which can elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease. Because stress triggers hormones that contribute to weight gain, using a daily gratitude practice to help manage stress may also help individuals maintain a healthy weight.
Health benefits of gratitude
One study from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine examined the effects of keeping a gratitude journal on heart health and inflammatory markers in patients with Stage B heart failure. The study found that people who practiced gratitude had better heart health, less inflammation, and healthier heart rhythms. They also reported being less depressed, having more energy, and sleeping better.
In a 2011 study, people who wrote in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes before bed slept better and longer. Another study conducted in 2012 found that gratitude was strongly linked to both physical and psychological health. The study showed that people who practice gratitude experience fewer aches and pains, and may also be more likely to take better care of their health. They tend to exercise more often, and are more likely to keep regular appointments with their doctor. They also tend to consume less dietary fat — as much as 25 percent less, and they have 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Adopting a daily gratitude practice can also reduce the effects of aging on the brain.
Gratitude not only reduces stress, but can also help people recover from trauma. A 2003 study of Vietnam veterans found that those who reported higher levels of gratitude also experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, says that the profound effects of gratitude are a result of the emotions that it produces. Feelings of gratitude promote other positive emotions that have direct physical benefits, most notably on the endocrine system and the immune system. Research shows that when we practice gratitude, it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces calming feelings, slows the heart rate, and lowers blood pressure. This can result in numerous positive effects on the body, including reducing cortisol levels and increasing oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in social bonding and trust.
Even if you don’t feel like you have anything to be grateful for, it’s something you can learn. Over time, the practice of looking for things to be grateful for can transform the way you see your life. Try some of these tips for adding more gratitude into your life.
- Be aware of the tendency to compare up. There will always be people you perceive as being more successful or more advantaged than you.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Write down five things every day that you are grateful for. This can be anything from having a healthy family to being able to sit down with a cup of coffee in the morning. Challenge yourself to come up with new things every day.
- Change how you look at events in your life. When something happens that you would normally perceive as negative, see if you can find something positive about the situation. For example, if you get stuck in traffic, instead of complaining about being delayed, take advantage of the extra time to check out a new podcast you’ve been wanting to listen to.
- Keep a gratitude jar. Every day, write down one thing you are grateful for on a small piece of paper and put it in a jar. At the end of the year, take out all the pieces of paper and read them.
- Follow uplifting and motivational accounts on social media, and limit your exposure to negative people as much as possible.
- Volunteer for an organization that helps others who are less fortunate.
- See how long you can go without complaining. Aim for a full day and work your way up to a week.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on November 2, 2017