Why Gratitude is Good for Your Health
Gratitude is good for you — amazingly healthy for those who practice it. Being grateful not only helps us cultivate emotional well-being and regulate stress, but also has a positive impact on our physical health.
It’s not too surprising that gratitude is good for our emotional health. What is a little more surprising is that being grateful is good for our physical health, especially in the culture of mens sana in corpore sano.
A healthy mind in a healthy body. Actually, it is a two-way street, since it also works the other way around: a healthy body in a healthy mind.
The good news is that no matter how we give thanks, all gratitude is good for our health in some way. Why? It has an amazing neurological effect on us.
Numerous studies show that expressing and experiencing gratitude increases satisfaction in those who express it, as well as vitality, hope and optimism. In addition, it helps reduce depression, anxiety, envy and stress related to work.
A recent study published in April 2017, found that people who experience and express gratitude reported fewer symptoms of physical illness and better sleep quality.
While the immediate effects of gratitude are clear, the authors argue that gratitude is also good for long-term success in relationships and personal well-being.
Gratitude is good for you
A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the hypothalamus activates when we feel gratitude or while doing things with altruistic intent.
Although it may be hard to believe, this research supports the claim that, literally, we cannot function well without gratitude. Because the hypothalamus is the part of our brain that regulates important bodily functions, including appetite, sleep, temperature, metabolism and growth.
The good news is that gratitude is addictive, in a positive way. Acts of kindness and gratitude release large amounts of dopamine, a natural reward that works as a stimulant to keep us motivated to be grateful.
But that’s not all. In addition, research on the benefits of gratitude show that these neurological effects open the door to even more physical and mental benefits.
Gratitude is good for our health and makes pain feel less painful
It’s hard to believe that something as simple as being grateful can alleviate physical pain. However, it is completely true, and many studies back it up.
For example, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience less pain and report feeling healthier than other people.
Gratitude encourages the release of dopamine, and this can also help improve physical pain. That’s because dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in processing pain. Its analgesic effect is big.
In addition, research in general has found that grateful people are also more interested in looking after their health and exercising more. In fact, people who practice gratitude exercise more frequently and are more likely to get medical check-ups. This probably contributes to their longevity.
When it comes to physical health, gratitude can lower blood pressure and improve the immune system. In addition, gratitude is associated with higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).
There is also a link between gratitude and a decrease in creatinine levels, an indicator of the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the bloodstream. Being grateful also reduces levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of heart inflammation and heart disease.
Gratitude is good for good sleep
One reason gratitude improves both emotional and physical well-being is that it greatly improves sleep quality. Numerous scientific studies on gratitude have come to the same conclusion. That gratitude improves sleep quality, decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and lengthens sleep duration.
As previously mentioned, sleep is one of the many vital aspects the hypothalamus controls. This is activated by gratitude. Sleep is connected to many bodily functions, like those related to anxiety, depression, pain and stress, not to mention the immune system.
The key is what is on our minds when we’re trying to fall asleep. If are worried or anxious, then your body’s stress levels increase, reducing your sleep quality, keeping you awake or waking you up.
But if you’re thinking about all you’re thankful for, your thoughts will relax you. Thus you will fall asleep better.
Being grateful is a stress-reliever
Sleeping better means being more relaxed, which is not only good for our mental health , but also our heart and nervous system, since it helps us to better manage stress.
A 2007 study on the benefits of gratitude in people with hypertension showed a significant decrease in their systolic blood pressure. What the subjects did was to count their blessings once a week.
This research also found that keeping a “gratitude diary” can reduce blood pressure by 10%. Other studies have shown that gratitude helps decrease cortisol, the stress hormone. It has also been linked to higher levels of heart rate variability, a good marker of health status that can help diagnose stress states.
It has also been found that gratitude makes us more resistant to trauma and stressful events. In other words, thankful people recover better after trauma.
Gratitude is good for anxiety and depression
Numerous studies on the benefits of practicing gratitude have shown that keeping a gratitude diary, or writing and sending thank you notes can increase our long-term happiness by more than 10%.
A 2005 study also showed that keeping a gratitude diary decreased depression by more than 30% during the duration of the study.
Another more recent study found that all subjects with anxiety and depression who wrote thank you letters had significant behavioral changes.
Moreover, MRI’s showed that not only was there an increase in neural modulation, due to changes in the medial prefrontal cortex, but that they were more capable of handling negative emotions (such as guilt) and were more willing to be helpful, empathetic and kind.
Another study, done in 2012 by Chinese researchers, found that gratitude has a profound effect on sleep with very positive implications for people with anxiety and depression.
In people with depression, they found the amount and sleep quality wasn’t related to lower depression scores, but rather with gratitude relieving their depressive symptoms, no matter how much or how well the patient slept. This suggests that one thing gratitude does is reduce depression symptoms.
However, in subjects with anxiety, sleep and reduced anxiety were associated. This led to the conclusion that the scores of lower anxiety were the result of healthy sleep. Albeit indirectly, gratitude led to better sleep, which in turn led to a reduction in anxiety.
Being grateful gives you energy
After all that, saying gratitude makes us stronger, both physically and mentally, shouldn’t surprise us. On the one hand, gratitude makes us healthier. And on the other, it helps us be more optimistic and gives us energy.
Research on gratitude has repeatedly shown that grateful people have higher energy levels and are more relaxed. They are happier and healthier. Hence the conclusion that being grateful has the potential to lengthen our productive life.
In the world we’re living in, you may think you have no reason to be grateful. But, have you stopped to think that maybe the reason you feel that way is because you’re not being grateful enough to have a reason?