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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Gratitude: Surprising Health Benefits

Why We Should Give Thanks Year Round



Yep, I did time this post with Thanksgiving, but its concept is even better applied at other times. After all, right around every fourth Thursday in November, we’re primed for gratitude. It feels really good, maybe even easier than usual, to appreciate life. And despite all the sappy commercials and Pinterest quotes, our thankfulness comes from a place of sincerity, in part because of the very sense of shared community I just rudely called sappy! But what happens after the turkey dinner, after each family member has mentioned something for which they’re grateful this year?


If we're smart, we'd swaddle our health in simple thankfulness all year long. Yes, I did just use the word “swaddle”—one, because, come on, how often do you get to? And two, more importantly, swaddle means to wrap up snugly in cloth, an incredibly comforting state for newborns. Metaphorically, here, we might say it means to consciously set aside time to assess our blessings and/or express thanks to others, thus wrapping ourselves up in the very warm, very real feelings of wellbeing that follow. (For me, this happens during my crack-o-dawn journaling, when after a hodgepodge of complaints, fears, descriptions of crises, observations of the moon, funny things my kids said, etc etc, I supply 3-5 endings to the sentence, “Today I am grateful for...”)


Years of research show that experiencing & sharing gratitude improves health in very consequential ways. So, it makes sense to practice it daily. This will sound like one of those late night infomercials, but: What if you simply had to consciously appreciate a few things in your life each day to feel better? Would you do it? Here’s why you should.

  • In studies by Robert Emmons & Michael McCullough (researchers who’ve explored gratitude in depth) people who wrote about gratitude were not only more optimistic than those who focused on aggravations, but they exercised more and were less likely to visit the doctor. (HarvardHealth.edu)

  • Also, according to a 2016 study, “Gratitude journaling may improve biomarkers related to heart failure morbidity, such as reduced inflammation.” (Redwine et al, 2016)

  • When participants in one study (by renowned researcher Martin Seligman) wrote & gave letters of gratitude to people in their lives who they felt had never been adequately thanked, their happiness scores skyrocketed. (HarvardHealth.edu)

  • Gratitude can potentially boost the immune system. In studies of highly stressed law school students at the Universities of Kentucky and Utah, those who remained optimistic had higher immunity-protecting blood cell counts than their pessimistic counterparts. (Today.com)

  • Gratitude predicts longer sleep duration and better quality of sleep. (Journ Pschyosomatic Res, 2009) It’s believed that generally having more positive thoughts at bedtime, something that regularly practicing gratitude fosters, improves sleep!

  • Gratitude can reboot willpower and keep people from overeating. Cognitive psychologist Susan Peirce Thompson, who studies the psychology of eating, points to findings that gratitude can aid in impulse control, allowing people to slow down when making decisions (such as whether or not to grab second servings).

  • Research has also shown that practicing gratitude can ease depression. In Seligman’s research, over the course of a week, when people listed “three good things that happened today,” their depression symptoms dropped significantly. AND the effect lasted for six months. (By the way, I can personally attest to this. As I've often mentioned, I manage chronic depression—sometimes skillfully, sometimes messily! This "three good things" exercise has become a staple in my personal mental health toolbox.)


Amazing? Yes, imagine it! Simply following one half of Mom’s advice to always say “please and THANK YOU” impacts life & health in very profound ways. Wondering how to start? Your efforts need not be complicated. Here are some very simple ways to practice gratitude:

Write it down.

Much of the research on gratitude and happiness revolves around written practices. You might try one or a combo of these habits...

  • keep a daily gratitude journal in which you record “3 good things that happened today” (as mentioned above)

  • write a thank you email, text, or card to at least one person a day

  • pen a weekly or monthly letter of thanks to your future self, acknowledging the ways you've been caring for yourself and others

  • jot down a daily word of thanks on a kitchen wipe off board.


Stop & breathe a thank you.

Here’s where a little mindfulness goes a long way. Pause occasionally throughout the day to appreciate small blessings. The senses offer a great pathway for this. When showering, feel a sumptuous bodywash on your skin & breathe a word of thanks. When cooking, take in the aromas and internally whisper a thanks for the day’s food. When speaking with someone, take a second to REALLY see them and say a silent thanks for their (passing or lasting) presence in your life today.

Say it.

More specifically, when you can, say a private word of thanks aloud. One of my favorite ways to quietly do this is to just periodically say aloud, “Thank you, God, for this day.” (It has a lovely little rhythm to it, too, when you repeat it a few times at a clip.) With a deep breath, it immediately boosts my gratitude factor. Equally important, express thanks aloud to another human. We often rush through the day, maybe saying a quick, perfunctory word of thanks to clerks or to colleagues or to a stranger who holds a door. These expressions of gratitude are as important as any, but expanding verbal expressions of thanks further cements feelings of wellbeing. Look for ways to thank those around you, for example, saying, “Hon, it means so much to me that you picked the kids up at practice after such a crazy day.” When we stop taking others and seemingly small blessings for granted, not only do others feel better, so do we.


So, in keeping with the season and in the spirit of true sincerity, thank YOU for joining me here, for your presence in my life, and for your inspiration as we all pursue health, wellnes, and happiness. May yours be abundant. Happy Thanksgiving.


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


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