It would seem common sense to suggest that being kind and grateful would have a positive effect on your personal wellbeing. However, it’s only recently that research has begun to demonstrate this to be true, linking being grateful with overall improved health and wellbeing.
Research from The Greater Good Science Centre UC Berkeley suggests that being grateful instead of ungrateful or jealous can have many health benefits – from an appreciation for what you have to an improved quality of life.
According to Vox, gratitude is a kind of “Velcro”. Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, and author of the book Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity shares that better mental and physical health practices will stick when embracing gratitude.
Gratitude Alleviates Pain
As more evidence comes to light, the connection between mind and body is more significant than we could ever have imagined. How we think directly influences how we experience the world, including how we interpret pain.
Studies have shown that people who are of a grateful personality report feeling healthier and experience fewer aches and pains than less grateful people. The jury is out on whether that’s because positive thoughts affect the body directly, or it’s simply because grateful people tend to take better care of themselves. Still, either way, the results are significant.
Gratitude Improves Sleep
Adequate sleep is crucial for a healthy body and healthy mind. Research has shown that poor sleep makes people less grateful, and by making a nightly practice of listing things to be thankful for that day improves sleep and leaves people feeling more refreshed in the morning.
In fact, mental health experts have connected a host of psychological benefits to practising genuine gratitude. In addition to sleep, gratitude can physically change the brain, improving relationships, reducing anxiety and depression, reduces feelings of envy and resentment and enhances empathy.
According to Dr. Madiha Saeed, MD, author of The Holistic Rx: Your Guide to Chronic Inflammation and Disease, explains the science behind gratefulness and brain chemistry:
“Heart-felt” emotions—like gratitude, love, and caring—produce sine wave or coherent waves radiating to every cell of the body, all determined through technology that measures changes in heart-rhythm variation and measurements of coherence. Research shows that with “depleted” emotions—like frustration, anger, anxiety, and insecurity—the heart-rhythm pattern becomes more erratic, and the brain recognises this as stress. This, in turn, creates a desynchronised state, raising the risk of developing heart disease and increased blood pressure, weakening the immune system, impairing cognitive function, and blocking our ability to think clearly.”
Ways to Make Gratitude Stick
Cultivating a grateful attitude is possible, and is one of the most effortless changes to make for better health. Writing a daily list of things you are grateful for (from the smallest of things to the biggest), helps to focus on the positive changes to your life that day and improves mood.
For some, a gratitude journal is used to collate these thoughts into more details and be referred to again in the future, allowing you to further cement the positive things in your life regardless of whether it’s a good or bad day.
Mindfulness also goes hand-in-hand with gratitude, so encouraging mindfulness practice or simply practising regular acts of kindness can improve the mind and body in a wealth of ways. From personal goals to changing a workplace environment, gratitude takes time to envelop, but a physical transformation to health and outlook will be seen once it takes hold.