‘Tis the season for spending time with loved ones, reflecting on the past year and setting intentions for the next one. If improving your health is at the top of your resolution list, scientists say you can start by getting enough Vitamin G—Gratitude.
“Gratitude is affirming the goodness in one’s life and recognizing that its source lies outside the self,” says Robert Emmons, P.h.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California. Emmons has been studying the connection between health and gratitude for 15 years. In one of his studies, he asked a group of people to write down five things that they are grateful for for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, the participants felt 25% happier and 30% of them exercised more frequently and had fewer health complaints (1).
Another study found that people who kept gratitude journals for two weeks slept better and had lower blood pressure. After two months, participants saw a 40% reduction in smoking rates. Keeping a gratitude journal has also shown to lower disease-causing inflammation and stabilize heart rates (1).
Taking time to appreciate the people or things in your life triggers the parasympathetic, or calming, branch of the nervous system—helping calm anxiety, stress and even anger. David DeSteno, P.h.D., a professor of psychology at Northeastern University says “gratitude makes us value the future. It increases people’s self-control and helps reduce impulsive behavior,” like smoking and binge-eating for example (1).
There is no better day than today to start giving thanks. Here are a few ways you can start:
- Start a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes out of your day or week to write down what you are grateful for. The things you write down can be as big or as simple as you want. Maybe it’s your family, or the way your favorite blanket smells after it’s been washed—the more detail, the better. There is no right or wrong way to keep a gratitude journal.
- Try subtraction. Think about what your life would be like without one of your blessings. This way of thinking can help get writing started.
- Focus on surprises. Writing down something that was unexpected in your day can elicit stronger feelings of gratitude (2).
- Say it out loud. Send a thank-you note, pick up the phone or do it in person. Taking the time to thank a friend for going above and beyond for you, remembering your birthday or just being a great friend can make his/her day, and it can make you feel good too!
- Set a reminder. Set an alarm throughout the day or a few times a week that can remind you to stop for a moment and be grateful. Eventually, this will become a habit and the alarms will be unnecessary. Gratefulness will become part of your routine.
When recognizing the incredible people and things in your life, it’s important that you take the time to become aware of the depth in your gratitude. This is more than just making a list. You should be aware of your feelings and be able to savor the “gifts” in your life. Being grateful can help you stay positive, happy and healthy—improving all aspects of your life.
King Lindley, J. (2018, November). The Healing Power of Gratitude. Prevention, 72-77.
Marsh, J. (2011, November 17). Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal. Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal