Gratitude is a word that we often hear this time of year. What it is and what impact it has on your health are the topics I would like to explore today.
Gratitude is the state of being thankful. I love this definition. Gratitude is not a single act, something we engage in once a day and more on, it is a state of being. An attitude that we bring with us throughout the day and into every aspect of our lives. Gratitude is a state of noticing positive events and taking the time to say thank you for them. Gratitude is something that we can cultivate in our lives, and something that can require perseverance in displaying it. First we will take a look at some of the benefits of gratitude and then some ways to increase it in our lives.
Cardiovascular death remains the leading cause of death in the United States. There are many factors that influence this such as obesity, smoking, alcohol use, dietary practices, diabetes and family history. There is increasing evidence that stress and reactivity to stressors increase the risk of cardiovascular events. In one study of 86 females it was found that having a state of gratitude reduced the systolic blood pressure (1).A state of gratitude has also been shown to positively impact adherence to healthy lifestyle changes that can decrease our risk of cardiovascular disease.
We have likely all experienced being stressed out and then getting sick. And we are right to think there is a link between long periods of stress and illness. Gratitude has been shown to increase positive emotions. The increase in positive emotions is linked to a more robust immune system and a decrease in inflammation (2).
Enhanced Coping Mechanisms
Coping mechanisms are positive ways in which we deal with the stressors that they throw at us. Living in a state of gratitude can enhance our coping mechanisms allowing us to feel more connected to our support system, solve life’s problems, and have a sense of well-being (3). Having coping mechanisms in place is an important aspect of making habit changes.
Positive Changes in Brain Activity
Gratitude has been studied in regard to its role in being protective against depression and anxiety. Gratitude enables us to enhance the positive emotions that we are experiencing. It also has been shown to regulate our emotional health and encourage self-acceptance (4). These changes can strengthen our minds against depressive and anxious thought patterns.
Gratitude journals were a practice mentioned repeatedly in the literature as enhancing a state of gratitude. This is a simple activity but allows us time to reflect and look back on the blessings that we have received. It can also be helpful to cultivate a habit of saying thank you and expressing to others how their actions and words have impacted us. Too often we forget to take the time to express to others the reason why we are grateful for the impact they have made on our lives.
Another aspect of gratitude is gratitude toward God, this is an important part of worship and reminds us daily of the care He has for us. Psalms 107:21 reminds us: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.” So I encourage you to take some time to write down what you are grateful for today, and look for ways to show gratitude to those around you and to God.
May Your Health Prosper,
Elizabeth Perry, DNP
1) Gallagher, S., Solano, A. C., & Liporace, M. F. (2020). State, but not trait gratitude is associated with cardiovascular responses to acute psychological stress. Physiology & behavior, 221, 112896.
2) Masih, J., Belschak, F., & Verbeke, J. W. (2019). Mood configurations and their relationship to immune system responses: Exploring the relationship between moods, immune system responses, thyroid hormones, and social support. Plos one, 14(5), e0216232.
3) Rahmat, H. K., Nurmalasari, E., Annisa, O., Hidayat, T., Fitriyani, N., & Pernanda, S. (2022, April). The Influenced Factors of Gratitude: A Systematic Review. In International Conference on Islamic Guidance and Counseling (Vol. 2, pp. 9-16).
4) Sun, P., Sun, Y., Jiang, H., Jia, R., & Li, Z. (2019). Gratitude and problem behaviors in adolescents: The mediating roles of positive and negative coping styles. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1547.