Gratitude, Can it Really Change My Health?

What’s all the talk about gratitude? I mean I am thankful for all the things in my life, so why would I need a “special gratitude practice?”  

 

There was a time when I thought the same thing, but as Melodie Beattie, author of "Journey to the Heart", explains, gratitude is a whole lot more. 

 

I have come to learn that a gratitude practice takes thankfulness to a whole different level.

 

When I work with clients, one of the first things I have them start is a gratitude practice. Now you may wonder why a Health Coach would start with gratitude, but I would like to share with you some of the amazing health benefits of gratitude.

 

There has been quite of bit of research regarding the benefits of gratitude, and you may have even witnessed some of your Facebook friends posting during a 30 day gratitude challenge. 

 

A simple gratitude practice can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and promote more restful sleep according to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. (Dunn, 2018)

 

After about 2-3 weeks of practicing gratitude before bed, my clients almost always report being able to fall asleep easier and wake more rested. 

 

Along with reduced blood pressure, people who have a gratitude practice have “better heart health, less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms,” according to a study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine.  (Dunn, 2018)

 

Gratitude can also give your immune system a boost as researchers at the universities of Utah and Kentucky observed. In the study they followed Law students, a typically stressed out group, and students that thought of themselves as “optimistic” actually had increased immune function. (Dunn, 2018)

 

How could a simple practice of gratitude have such a profound effect on our health? 

 

By focusing on what we appreciate, as opposed to what is an irritate, we trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming part of the nervous system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered we decreased the amount of the stress hormone cortisol, but we may also increase oxytocin, a bonding hormone. (Dunn, 2018)

 

This can explain why people experience better sleep, and why when someone shows appreciation towards you, you feel drawn to them.  Hint, a good practice for you loved ones!

 

If that isn’t enough, gratitude is also very beneficial for weight loss! Gratitude can reduce the hormone cortisol as much as 23% according to Robert A. Emmons. Cortisol is known for causing you to hold on to fat! Also, people who practice gratitude are more likely to have a self-care practice and eat a healthier diet.(Dunn, 2018)

 

 

Research from Northeastern University found that a practice of gratitude can help people make better decisions. This may explain why often these people report better self-care, regular exercise and better food choices. In this particular study, the students who practiced gratitude were more likely to wait for delayed gratification when it was in their best interest, even when given a choice for  instant gratification. (Ducharme, 2017)

 

 

Now I hear those wheels turning in your mind, I don’t have time for a gratitude practice! Isn’t being thankful enough!

 

It is true that being thankful is a part of a gratitude practice. The problem is that we seem to be wired to notice the negative things in our lives. 

 

What if I told you that you could change your physical and mental health, improve you work performance and the quality of your relationships in as little as 5 minutes a day. Would you be willing to spare that much time?

 

Writing in a gratitude journal for as little as 5 minutes each day can enhance our long-term happiness over 10% (Emmons & McCullough 2003). (Ackerman, 2018)

 

 

Here is what I suggest to my clients:

 

  • At the end of the day write down, or share with a loved one, three things that happened that day that you are thankful for

  • They should not be general things like “my kids, my dog, my car, heat…..”

  • The idea is for you to open your mind to the little positive things that happen to you everyday

 

What will happen is you will begin to “shift” the way you go through your day. When you know you will need to have three positive things you begin to look for them. This shift will cause your focus to shift away from the negative things that happen and you will begin to experience the tiny miracles that happen every day.

 

Examples:

 

  • The new flower that bloomed in your garden today

  • The way the sun felt on your back to day when you sat outside

  • Someone held open the door for you and it made you feel good

  • You got carded and you are over 40! 

  • Someone smiled at you and it warmed your heart

 

I can go on and on with the tiny miracles that happen each and every day. The idea is for us to see them, to experience them and to feel the joy that comes from experiencing them. 

 

If you have a gratitude practice I know you have experience what I am talking about, that shift, in the way you experiencelife. 

 

You are more content with what you have, fall in love again with your significant other, see your children in a different light, and even remember why you enjoy your job! 

 

I challenge you to take five minutes for two weeks and try developing a gratitude practice. Here are a few ways you can add gratitude into your life:

 

  • Start a journal

  • A Gratitude jar – write on sticky notes, fold and put in jar

  • Create a gratitude box – decorate it and have fun

  • Create a family gratitude practice at the dinner table

  • Share your gratitude each evening with your spouse, or significant other before bed

  • Or create your own practice and share with us what you are doing!

 

Whatever you choose, I know, without a doubt, that if you start this practice you will find the same joy I, and so many of my clients, have found. And your body, mind and spirit will be grateful that you have taken on this new habit!

 

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References:

 

Dunn, L. (2018). Gratitude is good for you! Science finds being grateful has positive health benefits. [online] TODAY.com. Available at: https://www.today.com/health/be-thankful-science-says-gratitude-good-your-health-t58256 [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].

 

Ackerman, C. (2017). The Benefits of Gratitude: 28 Questions Answered Thanks to Gratitude Research. [online] Positivepsychologyprogram.com. Available at: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/benefits-gratitude-research-questions/ [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].

 

Ducharme, J. (2017). http://time.com. [online] Time. Available at: http://time.com/5026174/health-benefits-of-gratitude/ [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].

 

 

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