Gratitude is amazing. It helps us understand why difficult things have happened in the past, to help shape us and allow us to grow stronger. Gratitude also creates peace when we practice it in the present moment, by bringing us into the now. It even gives us a reason to strive toward a better future by building confidence that we have the power1 to change outcomes. Its benefits for our mental health are well documented, but did you know that gratitude can also profoundly affect your physical health?
This single positive emotion can help reduce stress and depression, combat heart disease, reduce inflammatory markers in the body, foster better relationships, and help us achieve our goals – so how do we develop more of it?3 of gratitude are all well documented.
Here are just a few things that this practice can do to make us healthier:
Gratitude Creates a Stronger Immune System Developing an attitude of thankfulness toward others can boost your immune system. Though researchers are still figuring out how (likely through reducing stress and inflammatory cytokines in your body) gratitude actually fortifies your immune system so you can expect to get sick less often4.
Try giving gratitude for all the other things that boost immunity too, like good gut health, your liver and kidneys, and even your skin. Studies show that our bodies respond to positive emotion, down to the cellular level5.
Gratitude Lessens Physical PainGratitude can also lessen physical pain. Thankfulness and feeling grateful6, even for small things feel less chronic pain. It may seem like a silly thing to do if you just stubbed your toe, or got your arm stuck in a moving elevator, but if you find something7 to be grateful for, you might not experience as much pain as you would otherwise8.
If you experience chronic pain, look for the hidden message of your ailment. What is it asking you to be more grateful for?
Gratitude Reduces Blood PressureEven a brief experience of gratitude can lower blood pressure. This is likely because gratitude tends to increase subjective feelings of well-being9. The happier and more at peace we are with life, the less likely we will have stress which can cause our blood pressure to spike.
Stress and blood pressure are tightly linked, so why not lower your stress by thinking of one thing that makes your day worth living, right now?
Gratitude Can Help Us Get Better, More Restful SleepSleep and gratitude are profoundly linked. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley explored how sleep10 affected people’s feelings of gratitude.
In one study people who got a poor night’s sleep were less grateful after listing five things in life that they could appreciate compared to people who slept well the night before.
In another study, participants recorded their feelings of gratitude and their sleep habits for two weeks. People who slept poorly or didn’t get ample sleep reported feeling more selfish on days following bad sleep.
Moreover, when we feel grateful we can usually fall asleep easier, as we are more relaxed when we think of things that make our lives better or inspires us. So we create a physical feedback loop with gratitude that both inspires and results in better sleep.
Gratitude Positively Affects our Neural Network
Did you know that gratitude even changes your brain? By choosing to be grateful instead of resentful, researchers found profound changes in the left dorsal anterior singulate cortex, the amygdala, and the right dorsomedial prefrontal cortex.
Functional connectivity (FC)11 analysis conducted to identify the modulatory effects of gratitude on the default mode, emotion, and reward-motivation networks in one study showed that our brains are significantly different during a gratitude intervention than during feelings of resentment.
Gratitude Helps Us stick to a Work-Out Regime and Lose Weight Gratitude can even help us stick to our workout goals and lose weight12. When we are less stressed out – which an attitude of gratitude creates – we tend to eat less, appreciate the good food available to us, make better food choices, and even commit to running, doing yoga or swimming every day because we see these things as a blessing instead of a chore.
We can also express gratitude for the positive changes that diet and exercise result in, creating a positive mental habit13 that drives us to do these things again.
Gratitude is Life ChangingIf gratitude boosts your mood, helps you create more positive relationships, and also changes your physical health, why not start to practice it every day? It is literally a life-changing practice. Try writing in a gratitude journal before you retire at night, and when you wake in the morning, or simply think of things you can be grateful for every time you are stopped at a red light or waiting for a call to come through on your cell phone. Gratitude will not only change you, but change how others see you, and in the process of revamping your mental life, it will alter your physical body, too. THANK YOU!
The physical benefits2H, H. Happier Human. The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life. http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/