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 well-being.
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, all the changes it has brought to your life and everything you need to worry about to stay safe?
Or do you sometimes feel like you just can’t catch a break? You know — the truck that cut you off, the weird feedback you got from your boss, the grocery item you need but is never on the store shelf? Do you sometimes feel negative and cynical?
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. 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 the 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? Who couldn't use all these benefits right now?
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 8 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, and thank yourself for the steps you take every day to keep it safe and healthy.
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. And check out some healthy options on the AHA’s recipe hub.
3. Activity: What did you do that you really enjoyed today?
Did you give it your all when exercising today, or find a quiet moment while sitting in traffic to reflect? Take a minute to think back on one particularly awesome moment.
4. Relationship: Whom do you look forward to connecting with?
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. Then make plans for a virtual meet-up.
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, including any extra time you have right now for your family or yourself.
Let’s do this, and be Healthy for Good!
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.