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The Power of Practicing Gratitude


Practicing gratitude seems to be a very vogue idea in alternative medicine messages these days. I suppose I am no different in my promotion of this simple practice. Many have yet to realize just how powerful gratitude is. I find it fitting to bring up this discussion just after our holiday that revolves around gratitude, Thanksgiving. I hope this is encouragement that giving thanks should not stop on the holiday. In fact, the health promoting effects of gratitude only occur with regular, daily practice.


Practicing gratitude is actually very easy. One simply needs to stop and contemplate the many things they are thankful for in their life, from having the basics (clean water, clean air, good food, being alive, etc.) to more coveted life situations (extra money, good family, good health, education, good job, etc.) Perhaps the greatest challenge of practicing gratitude is remembering to do it. Often, as humans we tend not to focus on the things we already have and live from a place of wanting and desiring more. When most of our needs are met, we rarely take the time to appreciate what we have. Gratitude comes when we stop, look around us, and appreciate all that life has given us rather than focusing all of our attention on what else we want or need. In this sense, it is a mindset shift.


So what happens when we shift our mindset in this way? To summarize the research, focusing our attention on the things we are thankful for produces a much greater sense of well being and satisfaction in life (1). Now, this may sound simple, but the implications to health are large. From research we find that those who maintain higher levels of gratitude had better sleep quality and sleep duration (2), improves symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) (3), improves symptoms of depression and feelings of stress (4), increases patience and self-control (5), and overall improvements in psychological well-being.


Furthermore, gratitude also has an impact on our physical health! (6)

(To me that feels like, well duh, of course having better psychological health improves physical health, our minds and bodies are intricately linked, they are not separate entities!) Research has shown us that gratitude can improve sleep, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, neuroendocrine function (7), and reduces inflammation (9).


Despite the referenced research and the associations found, there remains to be knowledge of why these things happen, what the mechanism of action is.


Other benefits of gratitude include (9):


Greater attention to the present and participate more fully in life, a mindset often promoted in many spiritual practices.


It blocks negative emotions such as envy, resentment, and regret.


Increases stress resistance


Improves your social ties and sense of self-worth


Improves healthy eating behavior (10)


As you can see, their is a multitude of positive outcomes that result from a regular gratitude practice. Many of these studies were conducted over months though some showed benefits in as few as 2 weeks. I encourage you to start your own daily gratitude practice today. At the minimum take 5 minutes to meditate on what you are grateful for. You will see further benefits if you also write these down, such as in a journal or a letter to those you are grateful for (you do not have to send the letter). Find a way to incorporate this into your daily routine (first thing when you wake up, before every dinner, or any other regular habit you have that you can piggy-back off of). This practice is a sure way to improve your mental function and start seeing life in a much more positive light.


Yours in health and well-being,


~Dr. Schull


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Resources:


(1) Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010;7(11):18–22.


(2) Wood AM, Joseph S, Lloyd J, Atkins S. Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. J Psychosom Res. 2009;66:43–48.


(3) Kashdan TB, Uswatte G, Julian T. Gratitude and hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in Vietnam war veterans. Behav Res Ther. 2006;44:177–199.


(4) Cheng, S.T., Tsui, P.K., & Lam, J. (2015). Improving mental health in health care practitioners: Randomized controlled trial of a gratitude intervention. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 83(1), 177-186. doi:10.1002/gps.1314


(5) Dickens, L. & DeSteno, D. (2018). The grateful are patient: Heightened daily gratitude is associated with attenuated temporal discounting. Emotion. Retrieved May 21, 2019, from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/52853b8ae4b0a6c35d3f8e9d/t/573b3c64356fb0e611c9ff31/1463499877174/the-grateful-are-patient.pdf. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000176


(6) Emmons, R. A., & Mishra, A. (2011). Why gratitude enhances well-being: What we know, what we need to know. In K. M. Sheldon, T. B. Kashdan, & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Series in positive psychology. Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward(pp. 248-262). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195373585.003.0016


(7) Jackowska, M., Brown, J., Ronaldson, A., & Steptoe, A. (2016). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well‐being, biology and sleep. Journal of Health Psychology, 21, 2207–2217. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105315572455


(8) Redwine, L. S., Henry, B. L., Pung, M. A., Wilson, K., Chinh, K., Knight, B., … Maisel, A. (2016). Pilot randomized study of a gratitude journaling intervention on heart rate variability and inflammatory biomarkers in patients with stage B heart failure. Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(6), 667–676. https://doi.org/10.1097/psy.0000000000000316


(9) Emmons, R. (2010 November 17). What good is gratitude? Retrieved Dec 02, 2019, from https://youtu.be/aRV8AhCntXc


(10) Fitz, M.M., Armenta, C.N., Walsh, L.C., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2019, March). Gratitude facilitates healthy eating behavior in adolescents and young adults. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 81, p. 4-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2018.08.011. Retrieved May 28, 2019, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103117308569

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© 2013-2020 by Derrick Schull, N.D.