This week, millions of Americans will gather together with family and friends to give thanks for our bounty, our friendships, and love. But while it’s nice to count your blessings on Thanksgiving Day, practicing gratitude throughout the year can have tremendous health benefits.
In fact, say experts, gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools we can implement daily to improve our quality of life, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
“While acknowledging what we are grateful for on Thanksgiving is certainly a nice gesture, why do we do it? What good is gratitude?” asks Dr. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude.
“For more than a decade, I’ve been studying the effects of gratitude on physical health, on psychological well-being, and on our relationship with others,” Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, tells Newsmax Health.
“Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic and yet in our studies of over 1,000 people who kept journals for only three weeks, the results were overwhelming.”
Emmons has written two books based on the findings of his research: “Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity” and “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.” He explains that the benefits of giving thanks are not only psychological.
“A host of new research studies are examining the effects of gratitude on health outcomes using state-of-the-art biomarkers of health and aging,” he notes. “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep which is a huge issue in today’s society.
“It also reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders which is another health epidemic that plagues our country. In the latest findings, gratitude has been associated with higher levels of good cholesterol or HDL, lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of c-reactive protein which is a marker of inflammation indicating heart disease.”
Emmons adds that grateful people are more likely to engage in exercise, have better dietary behaviors and are less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence.
“Gratitude is good medicine!” he says.
Here are 10 scienfically proven benefits of gratitude:
- Keeping a gratitude diary for two weeks resulted in a 28 percent reduction in perceived stress and 16 percent depression in healthcare practitioners.
- Gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol in the body.
- Two gratitude practices which as counting blessings and writing gratitude letters reduced the risk of depression in high risk patients by a whopping 41% over a six month period.
- Dietary fat intake is reduced by as much as 25 percent in people keeping a gratitude journal.
- A daily gratitude practice can decelerate the effects of neuro-degeneration that occurs with increasing age.
- Grateful people have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure compared to those less grateful.
- Writing a letter of gratitude reduced feelings of hopelessness in 88 percent of suicidal patients and increased levels of optimism in 94 percent of them.
- Grateful people have between 9-13 percent lower levels of hemoglobin A1C, a key marker of glucose control that plays a significant role in the diagnosis of diabetes.
- Gratitude is related to a 10 percent improvement in sleep quality in patients with chronic pain, 76 percent of whom suffered from insomnia, and 19 percent lower depression levels in that population.
- Gratitude is related to 15-18 percent more restorative sleep and 20 percent less daytime sleep dysfunction.
And for the icing on the cake, studies also show that gratitude improves relationships. A 2014 study published in the journal Emotion revealed that showing appreciation helps us make new friends and improve our existing relationships.
“People are you are magnetically drawn to your positive energy and want to be in your circle,” explains Dr. Judy Kuriansky, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Columbia University Teachers College and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Healthy Relationships.”
“Start with those closest to you and remember to show your appreciation to your loved ones on a regular basis instead of taking them for granted. Your relationships with grow and glow!”
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