THE annual Thanksgiving holiday was recently celebrated in the USA.
It’s when people get together and reflect on all the things they are grateful for.
It is one bit of Americana that we have not adopted over here, and more’s the pity.
It turns out that, unlike Big Macs, gratitude is actually good for your health.
In a study by Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, subjects who wrote down one thing that they were grateful for every day for three weeks, reported being 25 percent happier for up to six months.
In a University of Pennsylvania study, subjects who wrote letters of gratitude to people who had done them a major service reported substantially decreased symptoms of depression for up to a month.
“Gratitude serves as a corrective,” says prof Emmons, “especially when it becomes a regular practice”.
This consistent effort to notice and appreciate the good things we already have changes us for the better on many levels.
In prof Emmons’ gratitude-journal studies, those who regularly wrote down things that they were thankful for reported an increased sense of vitality, which in turn improves the immune system. Control subjects who simply kept a general diary saw little increase in energy levels.
A gratitude practice has also been associated with improved kidney function, reduced blood-pressure & stress-hormone levels.
This link is believed to come from the tendency of grateful people to appreciate their health more than others, which leads them to take better care of themselves.
They exercise more and sleep better.
A 2012 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study of more than 300 couples found that those who felt more appreciated by their partners were more likely to appreciate their partner in return, and to still be in the relationship nine months later, compared with couples who didn’t feel appreciated by each other.
People can’t help but respond positively to gratitude. When appreciation is expressed, it triggers a bio-chemical response in the recipient’s brain, including a surge of the feel-good chemical dopamine.
So when you express gratitude toward a spouse, a colleague, or a friend, he or she tends to feel grateful in return.
Instead of a vicious circle of blame and resentment, you create a virtuous circle of appreciation and respect.
Creating a regular habit of cultivating gratitude for the good things in our lives has a beneficial effect on our health, our brain chemistry and our relationships.
by FRANK VILAASA
Anahata Wellness Centre