What is gratitude? How can you be grateful during times of physical pain, financial suffering or emotional stress? Can gratitude help us be physically fit, emotionally strong and successful in our daily lives? What is the secret to having a happy, rich and fulfilling life? New research shows that gratitude is scientifically proven to benefit not only our emotions, but our bodies, mind and spirit and significantly effect our overall health and wellness.
“It is gratitude that enables us to receive and it is gratitude that motivates us to return the goodness that we have been given. In short, it is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.” Robert A. Emmons
It seems that every year around Thanksgiving, we remind ourselves to be grateful. If we worked to maintain a grateful attitude all year, we would be amazed at how much better our outlook on life was and how much better our bodies felt as well!
Harboring anger, resentment, and negativity can be detrimental to our physical bodies, so it is no surprise that by living in an attitude of gratitude, we can promote positive health.
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Scientist Robert Emmons says, “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished. Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires, and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.”
Benefits to our Bodies
Studies have shown that gratitude has a wide variety of positive effects on the body, mind and emotions.
- A collection of positive emotions, specifically gratitude, can reduce cortisol and other stress hormones by almost 25%.
- Grateful emotions foster a peaceful state and can even reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Gratitude can improve overall cardiac health, both indirectly through improving mood and attention to positive health behaviors like fitness and nutrition, as well as directly through reduction in inflammation.
- In a study involving 192 college students, grateful participants were shown to spend an average of 36% more time exercising per week, showing better care of health overall.
- Practicing gratitude can also improve your brain functionality and strengthen memory.
- Grateful people are more prone to avoid harmful habits like drug use and smoking.
- Gratitude can help lower risk of depression, help people overcome trauma, increase mental resilience during difficult situations, can reduce toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, and regret.
Ways to Practice Gratitude:
“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.” Alan Cohen.
Making lists of things you are grateful for can have a multitude of benefits, including an improvement in the quality and duration of sleep.A study of 400 people showed that 40% of those with sleep disorders experienced improvement when making the lists. Gratitude can also improve the condition of your heart. Recalling feelings of appreciation can decrease blood pressure and lower heart rate variability.
It may be difficult if you approach the gratitude journal by writing things you are expressly grateful for. The list might include family, friends, job, pets, etc. but it can be difficult to maintain an interesting way to write about those things.
Another idea could be writing things that make you happy from the current day, something that brought you peace, a moment you felt fully present, a time you laughed, something that relieved worry, support you received, something you appreciate about your work…the possibilities are endless! There are more opportunities when you take a creative approach to journaling. The important part is to write every day!
Another option is to write down great things that happen as the year progresses and put them in a box or a jar. At the end of the year, you can go through all the wonderful memories and remember the joys of the previous year.
Exercises when you are feeling ungrateful
It’s important to realize that gratitude is rarely an emotion that overwhelms us, although there are times in life when we do feel overcome with gratitude for certain aspects of our lives. Ultimately gratitude is more of a mindset than an emotion. This is useful information because it means that you can control your level of gratitude. Oftentimes practicing grateful actions and thoughts can lead you to a state of true gratitude.
Call a friend, serve your spouse, or consider things in your life that you would regret not having. Ultimately, if you live in a grateful mindset, you will be more flexible and able to receive goodness from every situation.
Story of the Farmer and the Horse
There is an ancient story of a farmer whose only horse ran away.
Later that evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was thought to be such bad luck. “Your farm will suffer, and you will not be able to plough your fields,” they said. “Surely this is a terrible thing to have happened to you.”
The farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The next day the horse returned but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came to congratulate him and exclaim his good fortune. “You are much richer than you were before!” they said. “Surely this has turned out to be a great thing for you.”
The farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
Then, the following day, the farmer’s son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses. He was immediately thrown from the horse and broke his leg. With this injury he couldn’t work on the farm. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy to the farmer for the incident. “There is more work than only you can handle, and you may be driven poor,” they said. “Surely this is a terrible misfortune.”
The old farmer simply said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of his broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors heard this they came to visit the farmer and said, “How fortunate you are! Things have worked out after all. Most young men never return alive from the war. Surely this is the best of fortunes for you and your son!”
Again, the old man said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
Gratitude is a state of being. It is a way of life. People who are grateful are not affected by every day circumstances –good or bad— and therefore, they are generally content and relatively happy every day. Living gratefully is freeing!
Digdon, Nancy, and Amy Koble. “Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial.” Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being: 193-206.
Dubois, CM. “Positive psychological attributes and cardiac outcomes: associations, mechanisms, and interventions.” PubMed
Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. Mccullough. “Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. PubMed
Hill, Patrick L., Mathias Allemand, and Brent W. Roberts. “Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-rated Physical Health across Adulthood.” Personality and Individual Differences: PubMed
Wood, Alex M., Jeffrey J. Froh, and Adam W.A. Geraghty. “Gratitude and Well-being: A Review and Theoretical Integration.” Clinical Psychology Review. PubMed
This article was written by Jessica Johnson. Jessica is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Jessica has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management with an Economics and International Studies Minor from the University of Central Misouri (UCM). She is currently working as Assistant Manager and Sales Representative in Pacific Grove, California. She was Vice President of Delta Epsilon Iota Honor Society from 2011-2012 and is a sales representative for Young Living Essential Oils Company.
Jessica is passionate about holistic health and healing. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at http://www.montereybayholistic.com. Photos images: http://www.Pixabay.com
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