Health Benefits of Gratitude

My family faced a lot of upheaval in 2014. We moved into a small rental for 8 months while we renovated our old home and at the same time I received health news that resulted in three surgeries in 6 months. The last one was one year ago this week. The good news is that we are in our newly updated home and I am 100% ok, but the better news is I learned a good deal that year. The most important lesson was that being thankful for even little things had an incredibly positive effect on me both emotionally and physically.

The many benefits of expressing gratitude are widely acknowledged by health care professionals. “If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.” tweeted Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center.

Harvard Medical School’s Mental Health Letter reported a study conducted by two psychologists on gratitude where participants were separated into three groups and were asked to write a few sentences each week about their daily lives. One group wrote about things for which they were grateful, the second wrote about things that annoyed them and the third group wrote about events that had no impact on them. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Additionally (and perhaps unexpectedly!), they also exercised more and had fewer visits to doctors than the participants who focused on what irritated and annoyed them.

Some doctors even recommend gratitude practice to treat mild depression. Known as the “Father of Positive Psychology,” Dr. Martin Seligman created the “Three Blessings exercise to increase one’s happiness.  He instructs, “Each night before going to bed you write down three good things (ordinary or extraordinary) that happened to you during the day. “ Studies reveal those who continue this exercise for just one week straight can increase their happiness and decrease depression.

You can also express your gratitude out loud. Doctor of Psychology, Ryan M Niemiec, says research shows “Expressing gratitude toward your partner has been associated with stronger relationships and greater marital satisfaction.” Church services will often invite parishioners to express their blessings, ”silently or aloud.” One way our family expresses gratitude is at family dinners. Before we eat, we take turns saying aloud something for which we are thankful.  We prepare as well for the amusing responses (“I’m thankful for the mashed potatoes,” or “I’m happy the Giants won today!”)!  We have learned it’s not the content but the practice that is important!

Perhaps Charles Dickens, humorist, satirist and novelist said it best, “Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897, p.45)

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have an opportunity to reflect on that for which you can be grateful.