Research has shown that feelings of gratitude correlate with increased energy, improved mood, and health benefits.
In one study, those who completed a gratitude journal spent nearly 1.5 hours more per week exercising, reported feeling more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, energetic, excited, strong, and they helped others more. Those who were taught appreciation exercises experienced more coherent heart rhythms that enhance communication between the heart and brain, had an increase of levels of immunoglobulin A (a defense against sickness), had a reduction in levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and an increase in DHEA (a hormone that reflects relaxation). In adults with neuromuscular diseases like Post-polio syndrome gratitude exercises led to more life satisfaction, more optimism, feeling more connected with others, and they slept better (fell asleep more quickly, more refreshed after waking).
Cultivating optimism is another key element in improving our physical health. Optimists tend to respond better when bad things happen by: 1) not taking it personally; 2) believing that misfortune is a temporary passing event; and 3) noticing that the misfortune doesn’t affect all aspects of their lives (I’ve still got my health!”) People who are optimistic generally do better in school, sports, getting promotions, having good relationships, and they live longer and are healthier.
In general those with more positive emotions tend to have better health. Studies have shown that they have lower levels of fibrinogen (which predicts heart disease and stroke); are less likely to develop a cold when exposed to a virus; have lower rates of stroke among non-institutionalized elderly; have lower rates of re-hospitalization for coronary problems; have fewer injuries; report fewer symptoms, and report less pain. Higher positive affect is associated with improved sleep quality and lower levels of the stress hormones. People who report more positive affect socialize more often and maintain more and higher-quality social ties. In a large study of elderly persons, positive emotion predicted mortality (death rate) and disability. Happier people tend to have healthier life style habits, lower blood pressure, and better immune system function.
As we can see being grateful and optimistic are not only healthy for your mind; they’re healthy for your body as well.
Emmons, R. (2007). Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2008). Positive Health. Applied Psychology: An International Review. 57, 3-18.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Vintage Books.