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October 19, 2015

Three Ways Practicing Gratitude May Improve Your Health

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We’ll soon be entering the time of year when people focus on giving thanks for their many blessings. It makes intuitive sense that focusing on the good in our lives would improve our mood, but science is beginning to discover that practicing gratitude on a daily basis can provide numerous health benefits.

Here are three ways practicing gratitude can improve your health:

Your overall well-being may increase

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that a daily practice of gratitude led to a more optimistic outlook on life and a greater sense of well-being. The study was done by Dr. Robert Emmons, considered by many to be one of the leading experts on gratitude and a professor of psychology at the University of California–Davis, as well as Dr. Michael McCullough, professor of psychology and the University of Miami. "We found that increased feelings of gratitude can cause people's well-being and quality of life to improve," said Emmons.

Gratitude is good for the heart

The American Psychological Association conducted a study this year where researchers discovered that heart patients who were more grateful had better moods, higher quality sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers, which can often worsen heart health. “We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk,” said Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California–San Diego. He concluded, “it seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart, and that gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health."

Practicing gratitude may improve your romantic relationship

Relationships flourish when the people involved show gratitude for the daily gestures of affection and appreciation, according to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships. According to the authors, “Men and women with grateful partners felt more connected to the partner and more satisfied with the romantic relationship.''

Gratitude adherents also claim that gratitude helps improve your sleep, reduce depression, and can even increase your circle of friends.

But the challenges of daily life can make practicing gratitude difficult. Here are some tips to support you in cultivating gratitude into your daily life.

  • Keep a gratitude journal.  

In the Emmons/McCullough study mentioned above, researchers found that participants who kept a record of things they were grateful for, when compared to a group who kept of record of things that irritated them, were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. During the 10-week study, researchers found they also exercised more and had fewer doctor visits. So start your own gratitude journal. Every day, make a list of five things     you’re grateful for. Becoming more conscious of all you have to be thankful for is a great way to focus your attention on those things that make you happy and fulfilled.

  • Surround yourself with visual cues.  

Once you’ve identified those things for which you’re grateful, keep a visual cue of that thing close by. This could be a photograph of a loved one or favorite pet, a post-it note with a list, or a souvenir from a wonderful vacation.

  • Say “thank you” more often.

Just saying the words can help you recognize all you have to be grateful for. Saying the words “thank you” will also be incredibly appreciated by the person who is receiving the gratitude. A little appreciation towards someone can improve both of your moods.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2015, IlluminAge