Recently, we discussed current efforts to eliminate stigma against mental health, including the potential effects of the Affordable Care Act on mental healthcare in the United States. This week, we will see how gratitude, a deeply humanistic emotion, can improve your mental and physical health.

gratefulheartOn March 3, 2008, my father experienced a minor heart attack. My family rushed to the ICU and crowded around his bed. We feared that he would sustain lasting damage to his heart. Surprisingly, he was in great spirits, and thanked us for coming to visit him! As soon as he left the hospital, my dad started to perform daily ‘gratitude meditations,’ in which he reflected upon the things in his life for which he was grateful. This simple act helped to relieve him of the stress associated with recovery.

Physiological Effects of Gratitude
My father’s story illustrates that feeling grateful can influence not only our psychology, but also our physiology. In fact, just 2 minutes of intensive gratitude meditation can reduce heart rate and negate stress. Higher gratitude levels can also lead to:

  • Increased quality of life, even in patients with debilitating neuromuscular diseases
  • Improved immune function
  • Higher energy levels
  • Better quality and duration of sleep
  • Higher levels of happiness and optimism, which in turn have powerful effects on the chemical regulation of our brains. Happiness and optimism have been linked with a lower lifetime burden of disease and improved familial relationships.

Our emotions can pass on to our children
Increased gratitude levels may even carry over to our children. Recent research has focused on how epigenetic modification of DNA resulting from long term depression may be inherited. In essence, our emotions and grat checkexperiences, if strong enough, may be passed down to the next generation in the form of DNA modification. This offers a powerful explanation for why depression seems to run in some families, but happiness in others. Taken as a whole, these studies demonstrate the holistic effect of positive thinking on the human body and bring a new meaning to Descartes’ famous conclusion, “I think; therefore, I am.”

It is difficult to imagine how one can feel grateful in the face of adversity. However, as Dr. Robert Emmons, a positive psychology researcher at the UC Davis explains, “in the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.” Though it may not be easy to feel grateful during trying circumstances, focusing on the positive aspects of one’s life can help us through the worst of situations. See our Weekly Gratitude Activities Checklist for ideas on how to bring gratitude into your lifestyle.

Expressing one’s gratitude has been enumerated by the world’s major religions for thousands of years. Not only does it improve interpersonal relationships and bring out the best in others, it also provides us with numerous health benefits. There is never a better time than now to start reaping the benefits of thanking those who are important in our lives.

So, in the spirit of gratitude, the staff at Aarris Homecare thanks you for choosing our services!

Works Cited
Dunavold, P. “Happiness, Hope, and Optimism.” CSU Northridge, 1997 (http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/happy.html)

Emmons, R. “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times.” Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, UC Berkeley, 2013 (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_can_help_you_through_hard_times)

Emmons, R & McCullough, ME. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389

Emmons, R & Stern, R. “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention.” J. Clin. Psychol: In Session, 2013 Vol. 69, pg. 846–855

Braunstein, D. “Pass the Gratitude: Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving.” Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glenn-d-braunstein-md/gratitude-health_b_2131450.html)

Levinson, DF & Nichols, WE. “Major Depression and Genetics.” Stanford School of Medicine 2014 (http://depressiongenetics.stanford.edu/mddandgenes.html)

Nestler, EJ. “Epigenetic Inheritance: Fact or Fiction?” Fishberg Department of Neuroscience and Friedman Brain Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, 2013

(https://www.dana.org/Publications/ReportOnProgress/Epigenetic_Inheritance_Fact_or_Fiction/)
Rimer, S & Drexler, M. “Happiness & Health.” Harvard School of Public Health, Winter 2011

(http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/)

Scott, E. “Family Connection and Happiness—Fostering A Closer Relationship With Your Family.” Stress.about.com, 2007 (http://stress.about.com/od/familystress/qt/family.htm)

Heartmath Institute: http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/e-newsletter/publication/2013/spring/appreciation-is-good-for-you.php
WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost

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