This Thanksgiving, and throughout the year, don’t forget your daily dose of Vitamin G – Gratitude! Focusing on things we are grateful for not only makes us happier and more fulfilled, but it can also improve overall health. Studies published on the topic support an association between gratitude and well-being, primarily through the evocation of positive emotions.
Interesting psychological research examined the effect of a grateful outlook on both mental and physical well-being and found gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness and health. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Happiness and Health
In one psychological study, participants were asked to journal each week and focus on specified topics. 1 One subject group wrote about things they were grateful for, the second focused on daily irritations, and a third wrote about events that affected them with no emphasis on the positive or negative. At the end of 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Interestingly, they also exercised more and experienced fewer doctor visits and health issues.
It comes as no surprise that a positive emotion like gratitude would positively impact mental health, but the benefits to physical health are startling and include:
- Lower blood pressure: Negative emotions cause blood vessels to constrict and increase blood pressure, while positive emotions do the opposite.
- Strengthened immune system: Positive emotions elicit increased levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that is the body’s first defense against viruses.
- Improved Sleep: Positive emotions activate the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, improving the ability to relax and fall asleep, not to mention improve sleep quality and duration.
- Reduced pain: The analgesic effects caused by the release of endogenous opioids make people less sensitive to pain
- Decreased stress. Eliciting positive emotions like gratitude reduce cortisol levels and increase the hormone DHEA, which aids in physical relaxation.
- Increase life expectancy. Optimism has been shown to extend lifespans.
So, this Thanksgiving, and throughout the year, try to acknowledge the good things in your life by maintaining a gratitude journal, challenging your inner critical voice, writing thank you notes, practicing mindfulness, and eliminating daily complaints. Gratitude, the most important aspect of the Thanksgiving season, can not only lift your spirits, but also improve your health!
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.
Firestone, Lisa, Ph.D. (2015). The Healing Power of Gratitude. Psychology Today.