Is It Possible To Boost Your Health With Gratitude?
Some studies suggest that it might be. And the good news is a gratitude practice will not cost you a thing other than a few minutes of your time each week.
In a 2003 paper published by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, gratitude appeared to play a role in physical well being. Once a week, college students wrote about things they were grateful for. The study lasted 10 weeks and participants reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, shortness of breath, sore muscles, and nausea) than students who wrote about daily events or hassles.
But there are other studies that suggest practicing gratitude does not affect your health at all.
The same researchers as above, Emmons and McCullough, also found that gratitude did not always seem to improve health. In a study of people with neuromuscular disease there appeared to be no difference. For this group keeping a daily gratitude journal for three weeks experienced the same amount of physical pain as people who just filled out basic daily surveys.
So, What Should You Believe?
The studies that showed no change in physical health were of a shorter duration. 2 or 3 weeks versus 10 weeks in the study that showed improvement seemed to be the key. People who keep a gratitude journal for months may experience more benefits.
What Have You Got to Lose?
We do know that a regular practice of gratitude can make people happier. Furthermore, studies show that gratitude improves relationships. And it can help one overcome depression. Additionally, many people who practice gratitude experience a better night’s sleep.
And we all know how important sleep is to our health. Lack of the right amount of good quality sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even dementia.
“I started keeping a gratitude journal. At night, right before going to be I would write down 5 things I was grateful for that day. Some days were challenging, and it wasn’t easy. On those days I would look back in the journal and read all the things I have been grateful for in the past. This helped turn my thoughts to the good in my life. I sleep very well now. And with better sleep, I seem to feel better. I have more energy during the day. And my muscles and joints do not ache so much.” Kay
Is Gratitude Good for Your Heart?
In a recent study by Paul Mills and Laura Redwine, the answer is yes.
“We found that those patients who engaged in gratitude journaling—and received their usual care—showed reduced markers of inflammation as well as increased heart rate variability (HRV), when compared to patients who received usual care alone. HRV refers to the variation in the time interval between heartbeats (influenced by components of the autonomic nervous system) and is considered an important indicator of health. Heart failure is typically characterized by a loss of HRV as the disease progresses.”
Managing Grief with Gratitude
When my Dad died, mom of course was devastated. They had been together for 67 years. At 87 years old she was truly lost and deeply afraid of living alone. Within the first 2 weeks of his death, we were in the emergency room 3 times. The last time I brought her I refused to take her home. I told the doctors they needed to do something. I could not bear the thought of losing her too.
So, they kept her for a few nights and sedated her with medication to sleep and to help reduce and numb some of the feelings she was having. Then it was time to go home. With a prescription in hand, we left the hospital.
I stopped at the pharmacy to pick up her prescription on the way home. I told mom I to stay in the car and I would go and get her medicine. But she was proud! I will pay for it myself she said. So, I took her signed check and went inside. The medicine was $200. I knew Mom was worried about money since she would now only be getting one SS check instead of the 2 checks she and dad were used to living on. I asked the pharmacist to cut the prescription in half so it would not be such a shock.
When I returned to the car, we headed home. How much was the medicine? Mom asked. It was $100 I told her. She lost it! And she started screaming about how was she going to live, and didn’t they know she was an old lady and on and on. I could see, she was quickly sliding downhill, and I could see us ending up in the ER once more.
I had to do something quickly.
And so, I screamed at my Mother, probably for the first time in my life. I want you to tell me 5 things you are grateful for. She was shocked.
Come on, I told her, 5 things!
So, I began, “How about your wonderful daughter who is taking care of you?” “Oh yes, she replied, I am grateful for you”.
Okay, I said, 4 more. She stammered. And I jumped in. “And what about your other 5 children who love you and will be there for you always”. Yes.. she replied. “I am grateful for all my children”.
Was that a smile I saw creeping onto the corners of her mouth?
We couldn’t stop the momentum. So I kept after her. And by the time we reached 5 things she was grateful for her attitude had shifted. Furthermore, she was smiling. Yes, she was still frightened about the future and she grieved deeply for my dad. But she saw all the good in her life and she knew she would be okay.
She and I started the “Grateful Game” that day. Every day she would tell me 5 things she was grateful for and I would tell her 5 things I was grateful for.
Did she still experience grief?
Of course, she did. And she joined a grief support group to help. We also brought in-home care a few days a week to help her. And to give her companionship. Her gratitude practice helped her to feel more confident and to worry less. Mom went on to live to be 93 years old. I believe that her grateful heart is what kept her going for so long.
Consider bringing a family member for a tour of Sycamore Creek Ranch while they are visiting. Your sibling who lives far away may want to look at what options are available as mom needs more care. Call us today (832) 791-1577