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Gratitude: Good for Your Heart and Your Health

Gratitude: Good for Your Heart and Your Health

Mary Beth TeSelle

This Thursday, as we enjoy time with family and the bounty of a good meal, we may also feel called to take a moment to pause and share our thankfulness. Expressing feelings of gratitude not only feels good emotionally, it is also good for your health.

Research has shown that feeling and expressing gratitude leads to better mental health, better sleep, less fatigue, and even better cardiac health. This year look for ways to develop a gratitude practice that will extend beyond the holiday season.

Saying thanks is more than a polite way to acknowledge when others demonstrate kindness. Thinking about, and expressing, gratitude positively impacts your overall well-being. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, it leads to better mental health, better sleep, less fatigue, and even better cardiac health.

According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, gratitude helps make our mental state more positive and it enables us to enjoy experiences, cope with adversity, build stronger relationships, and it improves our physical health.

In 2021, the Harvard team cited two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, who asked participants in one study to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about what they were grateful for that week. A second group wrote about what they found irritating. And a third group simply wrote about events that had happened. After 10 weeks, the first group (who wrote about gratitude) were more optimistic and positive. They also had fewer visits to the doctor than the group who focused on annoyances.

Another study on the topic of gratitude asked participants to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had shown them kindness but whom they had never thanked properly. Immediately after delivering the letter, participants reported a huge increase in happiness scores. And they reported feeling that increased happiness for at least a month!

While sharing what you are grateful for on Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to start a gratitude practice, there are many ways you can continue to do so even after the turkey and stuffing are gone:

Keep a journal. A study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that people who spend 15 minutes jotting down a few sentiments of gratitude before bed slept better and longer every night.

Write a note. Write a thank-you note or an email expressing your appreciation for the impact someone has had on your life. Whether it was recently or many years ago, the recipient will appreciate the kind words. Try to make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month.

Create a memory jar. Encourage your family to start writing down notes about outings, activities or together time that they are grateful for and want to remember. Just write down a line or two, place it in a jar, and at the end of the year (or whenever you need a pick-me-up!), read through the notes.

Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you appreciate and feel blessed by. Try to identify at least a few things each week. As you write, be specific and think about why and how the blessing impacted you.

Meditate. Meditation involves focusing on the present moment and releasing concerns about the past or future. It can be helpful to focus on a word or phrase or how your senses reacted in the moment.

Say thank you. The simple act of saying a sincere “thank you” to others in the moment will grow your gratitude. If you cannot thank someone personally, even pausing to thank them in your mind can be powerful.

As we begin this season of thankfulness, consider adopting one or two of these tools to help you grow your gratitude. Your mind will likely feel lighter, your mood may be more positive, and you will reduce your risk for certain health issues. Just remember that the power of thankfulness is far too significant to reserve it just for the holidays.


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