Close your eyes and think of three things you’re grateful for. No, really, do it. Close your eyes. I’ll do it with you, and it will come easy because the things I am grateful for are also on my priority list. Now that you are thinking of things that you are grateful for – how do you feel? Gratitude most often makes us feel better. You also just did something great for your health. Would you also believe there are potential health benefits of gratitude?
There are numerous benefits of gratitude. Gratitude has been known to help individuals build connections to others, increase their optimism, make them happier, and increase resiliency. These are all great benefits, but I bet you are wondering what gratitude has to do with health. You might be surprised to learn there are common health benefits of gratitude. Let’s talk about a few.
6 Great Health Benefits of Gratitude
1) Lowers Blood Pressure
The calming influence of gratitude can lower your blood pressure. You don’t even have to count your blessings often to receive the benefits. Doing so just once a week resulted in a significant decrease is systolic blood pressure for participants of a 10-week study. The participants who practiced gratitude were also less hostile than the control group and researchers found links to other heart healthy habits. (2)
2) Decreases Risk of Depression
Being thankful can increase your happiness and decrease your risk for depression. Doing this regularly has been shown in studies to significantly reduce risks of depression and anxiety. (2) Practicing gratitude can make you more resilient to stressors and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression. Gratitude can increase dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin which are your feel-good neurotransmitters.
3) Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is part of the natural healing process, but chronic inflammation is detrimental to long-term health. Gratitude can help lower inflammation. A group of researchers asked a group of asymptomatic Stage B heart failure patients to keep a gratitude journal for eight weeks. They found the grateful group had lower inflammatory markers than the control group at the end of the eight weeks. (3)
4) Improves Sleep
Gratitude won’t keep you up at night. In fact, a grateful heart helps you sleep better. That’s true even if you don’t have a conscious gratitude practice. Studies have shown that those who were more grateful also had indicators of quality sleep and less fatigue. (4) Having trouble sleeping? Practicing gratitude can help! Studies have found it helps you get to sleep faster and have better sleep. I know it can be hard to be grateful when you aren’t getting sleep. Don’t worry! One study found that just two weeks of gratitude practice resulted in improved sleep quality. (5) That’s a benefit to be grateful for!
5) Lowers Stress
Taking time to reframe the world with gratefulness can help lower your stress. This is a huge health benefit as stress is one of the top destroyers of health. It can be harmful to hormonal health, gut health, and be disruptive to your overall health. Studies have shown how being grateful and practicing gratitude can lower stress. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people.
6) Supports Your Immune Response
Gratitude can help your immune response. Reducing inflammation, improving sleep and lowering stress are all wins for a healthy immune response. Helping the body by making sure it has the resources it needs, and isn’t fighting other battles like inflammation, helps your immune system. Then those fighter cells are ready for the inevitable viral invaders. A study surveyed first year law students and found optimistic students had higher levels of fighter cells once the stress of midterms kicked in. (6)
Gratefulness, Health, and Healthy Habits
These six common health benefits of gratitude alone are something to be grateful for and gratefulness is the health habit that keeps on going. Grateful individuals are more likely to have other beneficial habits like exercise, nutritious eating, and avoiding unhealthy behaviors like drinking and smoking. (7)
The best way to practice gratitude is regularly. Make it a habit that works for you! Try a gratitude journal or set aside time during your day to remember what you are grateful for. Spread the benefits by including others! Make regular gratitude calls, write thank you notes, or go around the dinner table to share your appreciation. Letting others know you appreciate them is good for you and for them.
No matter how you practice gratitude, do it regularly! That way it becomes a great health habit with many potential benefits.
Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn