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How to Improve Your Health with Gratitude

Updated: Nov 24, 2023


A woman wearing a black jacket and black leggings is sitting on a rock at the summit of a mountain.  She is looking out at the surrounding mountains and river while the sun is setting.

You’ve probably heard that being grateful can make you happier and more connected to others. But what about the health benefits of gratitude? Despite the studies, few people are fully aware of the benefits they can get from a simple gratitude practice. However, a gratitude practice can take many forms and offer several advantages for your health.



Health Benefits of Gratitude


Reduced Heart Rate and Lowered Blood Pressure


When you focus on being grateful, you take your attention away from things that make you worried, upset, or scared. Anxiety, fear, and similar emotions can raise your heart rate as your body goes into fight or flight mode. Focusing on gratitude can lower your heart rate, helping your nervous system relax and bask in appreciation. [1]


Reduced Stress Levels


There are several things that cause stress in our lives, from work stress, caregiving for elderly family members, and keeping up with our household and children. Stress can increase levels of cortisol, the body's main stress hormone. Cortisol impacts nearly every organ system, including the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems. When you use practices like gratitude to control your stress levels, cortisol levels drop, reducing the negative effects on the body. [2]


Lower Cholesterol Levels


Your mindset also affects other aspects of your biochemistry, particularly with factors related to heart disease. A gratitude practice could increase your HDL (good cholesterol) levels and lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and triglycerides. [3]


Higher Oxytocin and Other Endorphins


In 2014, Sara Algoe and Baldwin Way [4] undertook a study of couples to see if there was a “glue” that bonds them together. In this study, they asked each pair to give and receive expressions of gratitude, later discovering that these expressions increased the couples' oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the hypothalamus in the brain and is said to increase connections such as bonding behavior and is seen as a “feel good” hormone. While this study was about couples, it suggests that expressing and receiving gratitude in any relationship could have this effect.


Better Sleep


It's hard to fall and stay asleep when we're stressed. When you practice gratitude, you take the focus off the negative and put it on the positive instead. In a study of over 400 adults, a gratitude practice resulted in falling asleep more quickly and for longer. [5]


Reduced Depression and Anxiety


Depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by feeings of regret and ruminating on negative experiences or emotions. When you change to a mindset of appreciation, you may reframe negative experiences into something positive, further reducing these emotions. For example, in patients who had experienced a heart attack, optimism and gratitude were associated with improved emotional well-being six months later. [6]


Cultivating a Gratitude Practice


Practicing gratitude can take many forms. Try the following exercises to start your practice today.


Write a Letter of Gratitude to Someone


Think of someone who helped you in the past and write them a letter of gratitude. The best results come from thanking someone you never thanked before, but you can benefit even if you did thank them previously.


Send a Thank-You Text


Consider sending a thank-you text. Whether for your parent, child, partner, or friend, fire off a quick text showing your appreciation for something they did for you recently. Tell them how much it means to you when they do things like that.


Forgive Someone Who Wronged You


Forgiveness might seem like an odd way to practice gratitude. But forgiveness is not about denying that the other person wronged or hurt you. Nor is it about forgetting. Instead, forgiveness is about letting go of the pain and anger associated with their behavior. When you let go of those negative emotions, you create more space for gratitude and positivity.


Take a Nature Walk


A simple walk through nature, appreciating what you see, hear, smell, and feel around you, can be a beautiful way to find gratitude. People tend to want to judge themselves and others negatively but don’t treat nature the same way. A nature walk can be a fantastic way to learn to appreciate things and people exactly as they are.


Keep a Gratitude Journal


A gratitude journal is a thoughtful daily practice that’s highly effective. Try to think of at least one thing each day, but if you think of more than one, write them all down. The more things you find, the more you will have to be thankful for.


Count Your Blessings Weekly


If a daily gratitude journal feels like too much work for your schedule, consider a weekly session where you count your blessings. You can do this in a journal or keep a mental tally. Taking a few minutes once a week can help you stay on top of your gratitude without taking more time than you have.


Consider People’s Intentions


Another unconventional way to practice gratitude is to think about people’s intentions when they do something for you. For example, when your partner starts your car on a cold morning, think about how they did that because they love you and want you to be warm and comfortable. Thinking about what people do for you can inspire gratitude, but you deepen your appreciation when you take it a step further and consider the intention behind the behavior.



Final Thoughts


The health benefits of gratitude are varied and numerous. It only takes a few minutes to practice gratitude, but the benefits of an ongoing practice will last much longer and improve your overall health and well-being. Take steps to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine to reap the benefits.



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