This may surprise you, but you can dramatically improve your physical health by doing one thing that has nothing to do with your diet, exercise or sleep.
Feel and express gratitude.
And, no, I’m not going woo-woo on you – the benefits of gratitude are backed up by hard science.
Yes, many of those benefits are emotional and psychological, not physical, and what’s wrong with feeling better?
A Habit of Indulging in an “Attitude of Gratitude” Does Have a Measurable, Positive Impact on Your Well-Being
In 2015 researchers at the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine published a paper showing gratitude improved heart health. They examined 186 patients with heart damage, and had them fill out a questionnaire. The patients who expressed gratitude had less inflammation and slept better. They also had healthier heart rhythms than those patients who didn’t display gratitude.
In another study, patients were studied by an MRI while thinking positively or negatively about other people. Those thinking about others with gratitude had decreased cortisol (a stress hormone). It also triggered the subject’s parasympathetic nervous system, calming them down.
In a followup to that study, 40 patients were asked to keep a journal and record two or three things a day they were grateful for. Two months later, all 40 were retested. The patients who did keep their journals showed substantial reductions in inflammation.
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY reports grateful people experience fewer aches and pains. They also feel healthier than average. They are more likely to go to regular medical checkups. And they also exercise more often.
Of course, maybe gratitude is the result of feeling healthier and having less aches and pains. But, that doesn’t explain why such people exercise more often and keep more checkup appointments.
Besides, we all know people who complain about everything. If they won a gigantic Lotto jackpot all they’d do is complain about having to pay taxes and spend lots of time meeting with lawyers and accountants.
The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley had 1,600 people filling out an online gratitude journal, with the option to communicate their gratitude via Facebook or email. Before beginning, however, they all took a survey that measured their general level of happiness as well as some physical problems such as headaches, acne, stomach pain, congestion and sore muscles.
After just two weeks of writing down what they were grateful for, the group reported significantly higher happiness, including greater satisfaction with life and increased resilience to stress.
They also reported significant reductions in their physical complaints.
It’s All About What You Focus On
Of course, expressing gratitude is not a magic pill to give you a perfect life. However, when you’re stressed and upset, it’s useful to remember your life does have good parts too.
A study by Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCullough had three groups of people keep a journal for ten weeks.
Group One were told to write down good things that happened to them.
Group Two were told to write down bad things that happened to them.
Group Three were instructed to write down anything that happened that had a large effect on them, of any kind.
After ten weeks, it’s no surprise Group One felt better about their lives. They were also exercising more. Perhaps feeling more gratitude gave them more hope. And, therefore, more reason to think it was worth the effort to take care of themselves.
How to Get Started
I suggest you buy a notebook or journal. That may seem old-fashioned, but there is something psychologically powerful and compelling about using your hand to write in cursive.
At least once a day (though more is always better), write down at least one thing you’re grateful for.
Write two or more if you like.
You could spend all day at it if you wanted. You probably have a gazillion things to be grateful for.
And more happen every day.
Unless you’re a prisoner is some horrific jail getting tortured every day or dying of Ebola or starving in Venezuela or in some such other extreme circumstances . . . you can keep a gratitude journal.
Be grateful you don’t live in such extreme hardship, BECAUSE SOME PEOPLE DO.
If you’re not one of them, be grateful for that.
Who should you feel grateful to?
That’s up to you. God. The Universe. Fate. Your lucky stars. Your karma. Coincidence. Whatever you choose to believe in.
It’s simpler to form a habit.
Write the first thing when you get up in the morning. If your morning schedule makes that difficult, write just before you go to bed at night.
As time goes by, you’ll form the habit not only of writing but of noticing good things to write down as they happen. Your boss praised you in a staff meeting. Your son or daughter made their first A in school. Your spouse or partner gave you some extra loving.
The sooner you notice, the more you feel the gratitude.
Your heart will thank you.