Gratitude: A Hidden Key To Better Health

by | May 9, 2012 | Health & News

It’s no secret that stress causes us to become sick – leading to heart disease, diabetes and depression, among many others. In fact, up to 90% of all doctor visits are due to stress-related conditions.

What if I told you there is something you could do today, right now, to lessen your level of stress? And it wouldn’t break the bank doing it!

A few weeks ago, I shared the intriguing research and Satisfaction of Life Scale of Edward Diener, Ph.D, a.k.a. “Dr. Happiness.” I proposed the concept of a “gratitude” journal, writing what you are grateful for in your life.

Why keep a gratitude journal?

Because gratitude, it turns out, helps us better manage stress and life’s challenges and leads to sounder sleep, less anxiety, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behaviors toward others, including our romantic partners (1). Now, wouldn’t that put a smile on your, as well as your partner’s, face?

According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have a tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress.” (2) In fact, showing gratitude and having a positive outlook can boost your immune system. Dr. Lisa Aspinwall, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress and found that, by midterm, students characterized as optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates. Optimism can also have a positive health impact on people with compromised health, such as patients confronting AIDS (3). By showing gratitude and optimism, higher levels of white blood cells (CD4) cells and slower disease progression was seen in these patients.

Cultivating an “Attitude of Gratitude”

Here are 6 Tips from Dr. Emmons for getting the most from your gratitude journal (4).

1. Don’t just go through the motions. Journaling is most effective if you first make a definite conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.

2. Go for depth rather than breadth. Elaborating in vivid detail about a particular event for which you are grateful for carries much greater benefit than a superficial list of many things.

3. Get personal. Focus on people to whom you are sincerely grateful, rather than material things.

4. Try subtraction, not just addition. Reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all of the good things.
5. Savor surprises. Record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger feelings of gratitude.

6. Write in moderation- Don’t over-do it. According to certain studies, writing once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness compared to those people who wrote more frequently, three times a week(5). I believe this is very individual – find the amount of journaling that is right for you.

In addition, Dr. Emmons recommends that you “relish and savor” these gifts of gratitude. “In other words, we tell them not to hurry through this exercise as if it were just another item on your to-do list. This way, gratitude journaling is really different from merely listing a bunch of pleasant things in one’s life.”

So what are you waiting for? Order your own gratitude journal today and start reaping all of the benefits. Recognize the meaning of events occurring around you, create a deeper connection with your partner and sense of purpose in your life!

Click on this link right now and start your attitude of gratitude!

3. Ironson, G., Hayward, H. 2008. Do Positive Psychological Factors Predict Disease Progression in HIV-1? A Review of the Evidence. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70 (5): 546-554.
5. Lyubomirsky, S. et al. 2005. Pursuing Happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9: 111-131.