The Attitude of Gratitude
As January 2018 draws to a close, I realise that I have accomplished SFA this month, while many around me have embraced their various new year’s resolutions with aplomb. Apart from eating less meat, more specifically significantly less red meat, I have shown precious little capacity for self-improvement. However, I’m optimistic February will inspire me to ramp up the fitness ante and further improve my diet so I’m not going to worry about it… As my friend Máire Therese’s mother would say, ‘sure isn’t great to have the health to be able to do it (meaning eat like a wild beast who hasn’t seen a morsel in months)’; I’m going to remind myself of that sentiment when I’m next bruising myself into my jeans and be grateful. And then be even more grateful that I realise that the practice of gratitude itself is serving to bolster my health.
As far back as the 1920s, philosopher GK Chesterton extolled the virtues of the practice of gratitude to yield “the most purely joyful moments that have been known to man” and in the intervening decades, a robust evidence base for its far-reaching benefits has emerged.
Practising gratitude regularly alters our perception of situations by redirecting our focus. This prevents us from taking all of the (usually) many positives in our lives for granted.
Clinical trials have demonstrated that the regular practice of gratitude boosts happiness, resilience and optimism, reduces anxiety and stress and leads to improved productivity, fitness and sleep. It has also objectively been shown to lead to better perceptions of physical health, with fewer headaches and other aches and pains reported by subjects while they practiced gratitude on an at least weekly basis.
To give a more specific example, the practice of gratitude has been shown to lead to reduced (blood levels of) inflammatory markers and increased heart rate variability (a measure that has consistently predicted decreased mortality in patients with heart disease).
In addition, regular practitioners have also been shown to be more likely to adopt health-promoting behaviours such as regular exercise regimes, healthy diets and abstinence from illicit drugs, thus perpetuating the ensuing positive effects.
But is gratitude an emotion that those with high overall well-being experience regularly or is it an actual cause of said well-being?
This has been studied and it turns out that an attitude of gratitude can be cultivated: #winning! One such study required half of the participants to keep a journal of their daily events, with the other half specifically requested to record things for which they were grateful. After the two-week recording period, the latter group demonstrated notably higher levels of well-being, lower blood pressure and better sleep.
I’ve never kept a gratitude journal but that’s sufficient motivation for me to start! A five minute daily habit of jotting down 3 things for which I’m grateful shouldn’t prove too onerous. What have your experiences of gratitude journaling been?
Have a great week and don’t forget to…