Studies have long shown that practicing gratitude has immediate benefits on your mood and overall outlook on life. But a recent study out of University of California at San Diego’s behavioral cardiac department found surprising links between intentional gratitude and physical symptoms of heart failure patients.
The study followed 180 asymptomatic heart failure patients over eight weeks, wherein a random group was given regular treatment in addition to intentional gratitude journaling, while the other group merely received regular treatments. The journaling group had marked differences. Circulatory inflammation was reduced and there was increased heart rate variability, which indicated a lowered risk for a cardiac event. Patients were overall less depressed and got better sleep.
Now, to me the better sleep and better attitude are fairly obvious side effects of spending time each day being thankful. But to also begin to document physiological improvements as the result of a shift in perspective…this is exciting stuff. It presents even more incentive to work towards the positive in our lives, and to do it with intention and regular practice.
On social media sites there has been a trend in recent years to publish a daily gratitude through the month of November. I have always thought this was a beautiful practice, and have enjoyed reading the little things that my community responds to in happiness. But what if we were to implement this discipline into our lives…every day? I can only begin to imagine the effects it would have on my perspective, and on my daily experience of health. In addition to the responsible choices I try to make every day to live a healthier, stronger life, this practice empowers me to also use my head and heart in the process.
Even in the midst of difficult times, having to cast about to find something—anything—to be grateful for can be a powerful game changer. At times, I’ve had to settle on things I maybe didn’t feel entirely wonderful about. But that brings with it an important shift in thinking. By practicing gratitude and empathy in the middle of an argument or in the face of anxiety can open up space for solutions and strengths that were previously hidden behind the fog of a bad attitude.
In this season of thanks and time spent with loved ones, I am working on making space in each day to intentionally and genuinely thank someone, even if that someone is just me.
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