I’m sure that you have heard your grandmother or mother tell you how important it is to have a nightly prayer and gratitude ritual. Maybe you even tried it and felt the effects for a few days before you dropped it for some other self improvement habit. I am sure that you have heard by now all the psychological benefits to gratitude but what about all the health benefits of gratitude. What is the biological affect of saying what you are grateful for?
Positive Mind shift
Gratitude reinforces new neural pathways by rewiring our Brain to begin to search for the good in everything. You may or may not know some of the exciting research that has come out in the relatively new field of happiness psychology. Essentially, what they have discovered is that the brain is much more amiable than what we once thought before. There was this notion that it is only when we are children that our brains are like plastic and can be easily molded and changed to say learn a second language. Well research has revealed that our brains retains its plasticity long after those early years. Basically what this means is that those thought patterns that you thought you were stuck with as an adult can absolutely be changed and re-wired to healthier thought patterns.
I probably don’t have to tell you how happy people tend to have more robust immune systems and live longer lives. Study after study has proven this correlation. The power of gratitude lies in the fact that it is an incredibly potent tool to help rewire your brain to think happier thoughts. When you begin practicing gratitude you begin to train your brain to continue to search your environment and life to answer the question of what you are grateful for. You, then in turn, begin to think more positively and lead your life with a more positive attitude.
Appreciation for what we have allows for acceptance of what we don't
When we begin to practice gratitude on a daily basis, it not only trains our brains to see more of the good that we have in our life as it is, but it also helps us to accept what we don’t have. We feel more satisfied with what we have in our lives and then in turn don’t feel victimized by what has not come to fruition. When it comes to chronic illness, it is easy to see only how the world has let us down, how we suffer physically from our ailments. It can be quite blinding really. We begin to only see the negative in our lives, and by focusing on the pain that we experience, in a way we intensify it that much more because not only are we feeling it physically but we are tormented by it emotionally.
Gratitude is way through which we can shed some light into our lives and begin to feel moments of relief and peace. Through gratitude we can slowly let go of what we cannot control and turn that attention to what we can. We also begin to accept things as they are a little bit more fully and let go of the emotionally draining aspects of our lives.
When we are grateful we take better care of ourselves
Gratitude is a way in which we express more self love as we show appreciation for what we have and who we are and feel more security within ourselves. Often times, poor eating and lifestyle habits are really just rooted in emotional blocks that can manifest themselves with us not being too kind to our own bodies. Gratitude helps to clear subciounshious ideas that we are not good enough or do not deserve the love that we so desperately desire. By appreciating who we are and what we have, we are able to feel more whole and WORTHY which manifests in taking care of our bodies through healthier habits. One longterm study compared lifestyle habits Among adults who practiced gratitude and those who didn’t What they found was consistently people who had a more grateful outlook were more physically active and ate healthier on a whole.
Reduction in stress-reduction in symptoms.
Hormonally, gratitude creates a cascade of feel good hormones that make us feel happy and satiated by what life has to offer. When we stop to smell the flowers and appreciate what we have in our lives, it helps to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase the relaase of dopamine and oxytocin the feel good hormones that make our world look rosy. This reduction in stress can have direct physical affects on our health. One study found that daily practice of gratitude among patients with a chronic neurological condition greatly improved the amount of energy they had, the quality of sleep and even strengthened their relationships which then in turn strengthened their support system.
When it comes to hormonal conditions emotional stress can be a huge factor, and being able to reduce that stress can have a positive affect on symptoms. At the very least, gratitude can help to balance stress hormones and bring the body out of fight or flight and back to a para-sympathetic system, the mode in which the body HEALS. This can lead to better sleep which then leads to even more healing as we heal when we sleep.
How to use gratitude as a healing tool.
So how can you harness all of these healing goodies? There are many ways to stay on track but the simplest may just to keep a gratitude journal and right daily 3 things that you are grateful for. For me, personally I like to tag my gratitude practice at the very end of my daily meditation ritual as a prayer to the universe if you will. It always leaves me feeling whole, fed and ready to take on the world. I strongly recommend you find your own practice and I would be happy to hear how that goes for you!
Personality and individual differences.P LHill - M Allemand - B WRoberts
emmons, robert. “Gratitude and Well-Being.” Emmons Lab — Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Lab Director, Emmons Lab, 2017, emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/gratitude-and-well-being/.
Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. Enterprise Media, 2011.