Thankfulness: How Gratitude Can Help Your Health
Gratitude is more than a buzzword. It’s a habit and practice that may actually change your perception of wellbeing.
Do you ever feel like you just can’t catch a break? You know – the truck that cut you off, the meal that didn’t turn out, the weird feedback you got from your boss? Do you sometimes feel negative and cynical about life?
Sure, we all do this a little, but doing it a lot can lead to depression1, which is linked to poor heart health, more inflammation, and even a weaker immune system.2 Yikes!
Some neuroscience experts think our brains focus on negative information as a way to remember pain so we can avoid it in the future and stay safe. They call this the “negativity bias.”3
To balance out this natural tendency, we can practice gratitude.
“Gratitude is good medicine,” says Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at University of California-Davis and author of The Little Book of Gratitude.
“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure and improve immune function... grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence.”4
Dang, being grateful is the gift that seriously keeps on giving, right?
Here’s a simple way to get started: Write these down before you go to bed or share them around the dinner table. In five minutes, you can practice gratitude from the HEART.
1. HEALTH: What did your body do for you today?
Did you know you take about eight million breaths a year? Your feet can take you up a mountain, your arms can hold someone you love. Take a minute to marvel at the finely tuned machinery of your body.
2. EAT: What did you feed your body to nourish yourself today?
Was it an old favorite, something you made, or something new and different? If you eat three meals a day, you’ll eat about a thousand meals this year! Take a minute to savor an especially yummy meal.
3. ACTIVITY: What did you do that really enjoyed today?
Did you give it your all at the gym or take a quiet moment while sitting in traffic to reflect? Take a minute to think back on one particularly awesome moment.
4. RELATIONSHIP: Who do you look forward to seeing?
Is it someone who sets your heart on fire, always has a smile for you, has your back, or makes you laugh until you cry? Take a minute to smile as you think about this special person.
5. TIME: What are you doing right now?
Every single day you wake up with 24 brand new hours. The past is history, the future is a mystery, and today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present! Take a minute to be thankful for the gift of time.
Let’s do this, and be Healthy For Good!
Last reviewed: July 2017
1 Journal of Cognition and Emotion,Negative processing biases predict subsequent depressive symptoms. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02699930143000554
2 National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, Chronic Illness & Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
3 National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652533/ and Agency Attribution in Infancy: Evidence for a Negativity Bias https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4011708/.
4 American Heart Association News, Gratitude is a healthy attitude.
Copyright © 2018 American Heart Association, Healthy For GoodTM, heart.org/healthyforgood