How To Live A Life Of Gratitude
I know that experiencing and expressing gratitude is supposed to be good for my mental health, but does it actually have benefits for my physical health as well? And how do I learn this new approach to living?
Andrew Weil, M.D. | January 17, 2023
I have long been a proponent of living more consciously, being mindful of the many gifts we receive with every new day. I myself feel gratitude for our natural world, for the joy and companionship I get from family and friends (and my dogs), and for every day of life and health. If gratitude brought me no more benefit than that, I would be satisfied indeed. But the truth is that the answer to your first question is yes – not only does gratitude benefit the mind, it’s good for the body as well.
Many studies have found that gratitude’s benefits include improved sleep quality, better blood pressure control, and enhanced immune function. One 2016 study found that keeping a gratitude journal even reduced inflammation and improved biomarkers in cardiac patients at high risk for heart failure.
Your second question may require a shift in your mind set. Many people get into the habit of focusing on daily irritants, which is certainly easy to do. We all experience negatives – they are a part of life – but they will drag you down if you spend too much mental energy on them. Instead, spend a deliberate amount of time each day thinking just about the positives. What are you grateful for in life? The beauty of a sunrise, the love of your children, the longevity of a friendship – these are all things to be thankful for. Even the simplest parts of our day may bring us joy and gratitude, from the friendliness of a store clerk to the new buds on a young tree. It’s a good practice to keep a gratitude journal, taking just a few moments each day to note what inspired you to feel grateful.
Knowing firsthand the benefits of a life filled with gratitude, I was especially moved by the new film by my good friend Louie Schwartzberg, called “Gratitude Revealed.” I don’t think even a hardened cynic could come away from the film without a feeling of joy, having seen people around the world celebrating the many glories of life. Louie is a talented filmmaker (anyone who’s had the “Soarin’ Around the World” experience at a Disney theme park knows his technical prowess, and his “Fantastic Fungi” film is one of my favorites); with “Gratitude Revealed” he demonstrates that he’s an insightful one as well. Louie describes this film as a pathway back from the sense of disconnection many people feel these days, and I strongly recommend it. (See the trailer here.)
By the way, gratitude is available to everyone, and it’s entirely possible to take this step even if you’re not sure where to direct your feelings. It’s not necessary to feel grateful to anyone in particular to be grateful for something. You may be grateful to your spouse, a friend, or a divine being, or you may just be grateful for the good things in your life. A new study looked at those who reported feelings of gratitude both with and without a benefactor and found that both groups benefited. So don’t worry about whom you’re thanking – simply focus on the feeling and appreciate the gifts life brings you.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Redwine, Laura S. PhD; Henry, Brook L. PhD; Pung, Meredith A. PhD; Wilson, Kathleen MS; Chinh, Kelly BS; Knight, Brian BS; Jain, Shamini PhD; Rutledge, Thomas PhD; Greenberg, Barry MD; Maisel, Alan MD; Mills, Paul J. PhD. “Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure.” Psychosomatic Medicine 78(6):p 667-676, 7/8 2016. | DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000316 journals.lww/psychosomaticmedicine/Fulltext/2016/07000/Pilot_Randomized_Study_of_a_Gratitude_Journaling.5.aspx
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