If you’re really thirsty and you’re given a glass that’s not brimming over with water to quench that thirst, what’s your reaction? Well, if you’re a person who sees that glass as being “half full,” you’ve been practicing gratitude. One writer for the American Heart Association has described this outlook well: “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.” If you’re still focusing on the water that wasn’t there and a little peeved about that, you may be in some negative habits of mind that can have some unfortunate health effects. Don’t worry – at the end of this article you’ll find some options that can help you cultivate a grateful outlook.
Anecdotally and scientifically, medical professionals and other people involved in healing practices have found a strong connection between a person’s feeling of gratitude and their overall health. The first order effects are usually mental well-being … and these spill over into physical improvements as well. The main benefit can be summed up as resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from mental and physical adversity.
One impact of cultivating gratitude is optimism. While they’re not the same thing, gratitude is an important pre-condition of optimism. Imagine trying to be optimistic about the future if you’re ungrateful about the past. That’s pretty tough. But by cultivating optimism, the future actually does turn out to be brighter. One study that followed people over a 30-year period found a connection between optimism and living longer. In testing subjects on an optimism-pessimism scale, the study found that “for every 10-point increase” on the pessimism scale, the mortality rate rose a whopping 19%.
One reason for this rise in mortality could be the connection between gratitude and getting better sleep. One study of people with heart failure and chronic pain revealed a striking difference. Those subjects approaching life with a feeling of gratitude had a host of benefits related to sleep: falling asleep easily, sleeping longer and more deeply, as well as being able to stay awake more during the day. One contributing factor could have been having fewer negative thoughts while getting ready for bed.
Gratitude is good for the heart, too. Some relatively recent studies have found that cultivating gratitude has resulted in lowering blood pressure as well as improving heart rate variability. It’s also associated with reducing a “biomarker” (hemoglobin A1c) that is often correlated with higher risk in heart failure and heart attacks. An elevated hemoglobin A1c is also related to diabetes risk.
One amazing thing about cultivating gratitude is that there are many remedies that are easy to do and have had positive results in mental and physical health. Take these two writing exercises. A gratitude journal is a good way to end the day by describing one thing that happened that you’re grateful for. (Telling a loved one this might even be better.) Writing a thank you note can make you feel great – as well as the recipient. And if a note isn’t appropriate, consciously thanking somebody mentally can give you a boost, too.
So, don’t wait: appreciate … and be grateful for the good things that happen around you today. It’ll open a path for a happier and healthier you tomorrow.
Key Terms and Ideas
Cultivating gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring and hiding the pains and setbacks of life. Instead, gratitude is critical in helping us to tap our own powers of resilience.
Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from mental and physical adversity.