IS GRATITUDE THE SECRET TO LIFE LONG HEALTH?
The it word in the wellness universe. Arianna Huffington calls it “the gateway to grace” because of its shared Latin root, gratus, meaning grace.
But what sets this word a part from the others that have come and gone, is that it’s not going anywhere. Gratitude is a practice nowhere near being a trend. The art of practicing gratitude has been prevalent for years and especially celebrated on holidays such as Thanksgiving. But nowadays, gratitude is being practiced on a daily basis and its short and long term benefits are noteworthy.
I wanted to get a sense from others what the word “gratitude” means to them. It’s simple to attach words such as grateful and thankful, but I was curious if gratitude is seen as something deeper and more profound.
These were some of the definitions I received:
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF GRATITUDE?
- “Feeling fulfilled, happy and humbled with what I am given and accomplish.”
- “Recollection of all the things, big and small, that I truly appreciate in my life.”
- “The essence of giving personal thanks both inwardly and outwardly.”
- “A practice of looking at your life and just appreciating that you get to be here to live the human experience.”
- “Offering my help to someone, whether it be being there for a close friend, or contributing to a charitable donation
- “Feeling grateful is easy when things are good, but I think the real power of gratitude is felt when we can harness it during tougher times. For me, gratitude is a way of finding meaning in challenging situations, and an opportunity to release attachments to things we think we need to be happy, and see what we have as enough.”
- “Reflection of the positive in all of life, even if you don’t see it initially. Gratitude is the acknowledgment and appreciation for all that life has to offer.”
- “Gratitude is the state of being grateful. Grateful for the things we have. Grateful for the things we don’t have. Grateful for the path we have been given. Gratitude means waking up in the morning and going to bed at night with a grateful heart.”
It’s accurate to say that the ability to feel and express gratitude directly impacts how we feel each day. A study done by Harvard Health concluded in a case that “those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.” When we’re able to expand our thoughts and give thanks, we’re then aware of life’s blessings and appreciate the abundance it provides for us. Practices such as prayer, meditation and journaling are increasingly common methods of expressing thanks and gratitude, along with choosing to slow down our internal dialogues and mindfully expand our thoughts to more positive framework.
I asked these same people what the art of practicing or witnessing gratitude meant to them and how it made them feel.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU PRACTICE OR EXPERIENCE GRATITUDE?
- “When I practice gratitude, I feel much more grounded. Gratitude helps me focus on the present, and I feel a million times lighter when I’m not worried about the past or fixated on the future.”
- “I feel at ease and that positive energy is transferred into the universe! Makes me smile!”
- “A sense of calm and peace.”
- “Productive. I feel accomplished. If I hadn’t done anything all day, but I did one thing nice for someone, I would feel my day is complete.”
- “More peaceful, happier and content exactly where I’m at in my life.”
- “Gratitude helps me to stay in the present. It’s easy for me to get bogged down by past mistakes or missed opportunities, but practicing mindfulness and being thankful for what’s right in front of me helps me remember all the amazing things I have been given and all the opportunities that are before me.”
- “Gratitude helps me deal with my clinical anxiety/panic disorder. I cannot tell you how instrumental it is for me, when I’m feeling most overwhelmed, to make a quick list of 3-5 things that I am grateful for. It is so grounding and transformational!”
THESE RESPONSES SHARE A COMMON THREAD:
When we are grounded in our beliefs, at ease with our mental thoughts, calm in our emotional demeanor and at peace with our physical being, our entire body as a whole is able to function more gracefully and in harmony.
We are made up of the emotional or mental body, the spiritual body and the physical body. When practiced, gratitude greatly benefits each of these bodies.
Gratitude brings about higher levels of positive emotions, as the practice of it reminds us of all we are grateful for. It decreases feelings of anxiety and depression and brings about feelings of joy and optimism. A study from Dr. Emmons at UC Berkeley found that people whom practice a form of gratitude reported higher levels of positive emotions, vitality and life satisfaction.
Gratitude enhances the spiritual body, by bringing people closer to understanding and acknowledging the flow of life. Those that practice gratitude tend to have high vibrational energy, are usually more empathetic towards others needs and choose to honor their feelings. When both the heart and mind are in sync, positivity radiates and attracts others whom embody sincerity.
What I’ve personally found to be incredible is that gratitude greatly benefits the physical body. My own health journey began when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. For anyone who has received news of a diagnosis, it can bring about a wave of emotions – including hopelessness, fear and anxiety. All of which are low vibrational emotions and will lead the body to a state of extended stress – thus, exasperating the course of the disease and making recovery and healing increasingly difficult. Stress makes us sick, period.
In the early 1980’s, a study conducted by psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and immunologist Ronald Glaser found that students under the standard stress of a three day exam period had suppressed immunity. The level of their killer cells, which fights viral infections, had decreased and they almost nearly “stopped producing immunity boosting gamma interferon and infection fighting T-cells.” In lamest terms, the stress that these students were under was severely affecting the state of their immunity.
Vast amounts of research have shown that “when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system is triggered.” When the parasympathetic is triggered, it has profound benefits for our physical bodies including decreased cortisol levels – which when elevated, leads to high states of stress and anxiety. The more often the parasympathetic is active, the stronger the immune system operates. A strong immune system aids in protecting against illnesses, body aches and pains, lowering blood pressure and improving sleep quality, to name a few.
The same study mentioned earlier by Dr. Robert Emmons showed that gratitude is associated with “higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL), lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, a state of harmony in the nervous system and lower levels of creatinine.” If this isn’t convincing enough, another study done by University of California San Diego under Paul J Mills found that “patients who [practiced gratitude] for eight weeks showed a reduction in circulating levels of inflammatory biomarkers and an increase in heart rate variability.” Heart rate variability is a measurement of the time interval between heartbeats. Increased and improved levels is a key measurement of reduced cardiac risk.
SO, HOW DO YOU START A GRATITUDE PRACTICE?
Make journaling part of your morning routine and don’t overcomplicate it. Start by writing down three things you are grateful for. This usually starts off with writing down the most immediate items, such as health, family, friends, your furry friend, having a roof over your head. But as the days progress and your practice begins to dive deeper, you’ll find yourself writing things that you don’t necessarily think about on a whim. In one of my recent entries, I wrote that I am grateful to experience the sun rising and setting each day and the color of dusk reflecting on the walls of my bedroom each evening. The Five Minute Journal from Intelligent Change is a wonderful investment for those looking for a more guided journaling practice. Robert Emmons’ study found that those who kept gratitude journals felt better about their lives as a whole, were more optimistic and have higher levels of determination and energy. Practicing meditation with self spoken affirmations is another method that helps to focus on the present moment and instill self-love and appreciation with ourselves. However you choose to practice it, as long as it’s consistent and done so in a state of full awareness, you too can reap the incredible benefits of this wonderful routine.
The takeaway here is that we all have things to be grateful for. Finding a way to pause and reflect on life’s miracles and blessings will greatly benefit our health from the inside out. Writer William Arthur Ward said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” We all deserve to give ourselves and others the gift of gratitude. How will you wrap your present today?