Gratitude is Good For You

11/24/2015

Healthy Living - November 24, 2015
Amy Movius, MD
 
dr-movius.jpg

Modern medicine has traditionally focused on fixing problems. Recently, however, there is increasing emphasis in medicine on preventing problems and maintaining good health. With this shifting perspective has come an appreciation that physical health is intricately related to psychological and spiritual (religious or not) well-being. As such, the tools we can use to stay healthy have increased in number - and one of these is gratitude.
 
Thanksgiving seems a natural time to extol the benefits of gratitude. At my house, there is a tradition to go around the table taking turns saying what we are grateful for - which generally includes eye-rolling and lots of laughter. Thanksgiving aside, feeling gratitude regularly is associated with many healthy side effects. Grateful people tend to take better care of themselves, have better diets, exercise habits, protective behaviors, alertness, tend to cope better with stress, feel happier, have fewer physical problems and stronger immune systems.
 
A recent study looking at patients with asymptomatic heart failure found those with higher gratitude measurements had significantly better sleep, less depression and fatigue, more self-efficacy, and lower “inflammatory biomarkers”. These biomarkers are blood tests and are specifically implicated in the development and progression of heart failure (which affects over 6 million Americans). Another study this year correlated brain activity in specific areas with gratitude using MRI, providing further proof that feeling gratitude produces tangible, physical changes in the body.
 
Gratitude doesn’t require ignoring negative things:  it’s about trying to see the positive when you can. Gratitude is not related to wealth! Interestingly, people who have losses early in life often are inherently optimistic and grateful. Although gratitude isn’t something you can force, it is something you can practice and benefit from, regardless of your personality type. Some ways you can bring gratitude into your daily life are listed below:
 
  1. Keep a journal. People who listed five things they were grateful for once a week had fewer health problems and felt more positive than those who didn’t.  It appears journaling daily is even better.
  2. Keep a visual list handy of benefits in your life - include those you may otherwise take for granted.
  3. Look for the “silver lining” in stressful situations. For example, dealing with a rude person at work might teach you patience…
  4. Reframe a situation positively to help handle it. An example could be that a cranky child is tired and hungry, rather than beastly :)
One of the best things about gratitude is that it is universally available and completely free. There’s nothing to lose and potentially lots to be gained.  Happy thanksgiving!
 
References:
1.  www.healthline.com/health/depression/giving-thanks 
A Dose of Gratitude:  How Being Thankful Can Keep You Healthy
2.  www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost
Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude
3.  Fox et al (2015) Neural correlates of gratitude.  Front. Psychol 6:1491
4.  Mills et al (2015) The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-Being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients.  Spirituality in Clinical Practice, Vol2, No 1, 5-17