The Healing Power of Gratitude and Tricks to Cultivate it
The Thanksgiving holiday celebrates giving thanks – for national events in the distant past and in our own personal here and now.
We’ve been urged to say, “thank you” by our parents, teachers and spiritual leaders. Scientists back this advice with mounting evidence. Thanks, apparently aren’t just pleasant for the receiver of appreciation; a state of gratitude improves our own health in clear and measurable ways.
Thankfulness and happiness
Gratitude, the state of thankful appreciation, is strongly associated with greater happiness. Some go as far as defining happiness as a state of gratitude. Finding what we should be grateful for, counting our blessings, leads to a sense of well being, and positive emotions shoot up.
In a study by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough in which participants listed either points of gratitude, or, alternatively, their daily hassles, the gratitude group experienced greater happiness and well-being.
In a famous experiment led by Martin Seligman – the father of Positive Psychology –participants were asked to deliver a letter of gratitude to someone in their lives whom they haven’t properly thanked before. The positive effects from that one act alone lasted a full month!
Thankfulness and physical health
Grateful people complain of fewer ailments and feel better, but is there proof that gratitude can actually improve one’s health?
A recent study of 186 men and women with heart failure showed that the patients with greater gratitude had less systemic inflammation.
In another randomized study the same authors demonstrated that the patients assigned to gratitude journaling – daily entries of 2-3 things they’re grateful for – had reduced inflammation markers.
Practicing gratitude: a few tips
1. Write a journal/note: Writing beats just thinking thankful thoughts. Having to write forces you to organize and formalize those thoughts.
2. If you’re already on social media Instagram/Tweet/FB your gratitude: Your thankfulness might become contagious. I follow several Gratitude Projects that are truly inspiring, and remind me to not take anything for granted. My dear friend Sheri opens my eyes to the marvel of hearing a beautiful song on the radio and having air conditioning on a scorching hot day. (If you’re not on social media, you might be promoting your wellbeing by continuing to stay away from this distraction.)
3. At the table: Despite its proven benefits, noticing our blessings isn’t easy. Loss and bad luck are much more obvious.
Food can be a good cue to remind us to appreciate what we have and to give some thought to the wonder of what made our meal possible.
Plant foods – vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, spices, herbs – depend on the accumulated knowledge and cultivation of humankind over millennia, the graces of the sun, the presence of rain, dew and irrigation, the pollination favors lent by insects, the manpower of those who sowed, weeded picked and delivered, and skip forward many many steps, to the cook who crafted and combined it all together into what’s on your plate right now. As to animal source foods: animals practically gave their lives for it.
Food’s so plentiful for most of us, we forget how rare our state of abundance really is, and how much of nature’s bliss, people’s labor, luck, talent, experience, sweat and love went into making it.
Food, especially healthy food, could be your constant – several times a day – reminder to be grateful, this holiday, and every single day, for the nourishing gifts we receive.
Thanks are good to give, and good to receive. I hope you experience both in plenty this holiday and in the coming year.