As a part of our collectivistic culture, many Indian households are taught at an early age to be grateful for everything we have, particularly at the places of worship. Many of us know the emotional and spiritual benefits of practicing gratitude, but only a few know how immensely it impacts our physical health as well.
With our lives being currently on hold in 2020, it can be difficult to look beyond our losses and practice gratitude. It is not uncommon to feel negative at such dark times. But can gratitude be the answer to making things easier for us? We’ll find out.
The Challenge with Gratitude
It might sound effortless to be grateful but isn’t quite so in practice, and we have biological reasons to back it up.
If you are reading this post, you already own the technology that the majority of our country cannot access – a black-screened device and internet. You also had some food to eat, which was probably of your choice. In addition, you might even have the right clothes to keep you warm this December.
Despite having these, we tend to fixate our minds on the blemishes left behind by a seasonal acne breakout or the pain of wearing masks every time we step outside the home.
We tend to focus on potentially harmful or negative information as a survival instinct, which was useful in ancient times, but not so much now. Living in a world with the internet, we have access to all kinds of negative information, which can make this instinct work against us.
Health Benefits of Gratitude
We often surrender to thoughts that focus on things missing in our lives, but it does no good or any of us.
Many of us consider gratitude and happiness to be the final result, but it is actually the first step. As psychologist Shawn Anchor mentioned in his TED talk, we choose better physical health by actively choosing to be grateful and happy, even when we may not feel that way.
According to brain studies, there is a positive association between grateful feelings and our sense of well-being. Emotions like anxiety, anger, insecurity, and frustration tend to make the heart-rhythm pattern more erratic, which signals the brain to perceive it as stress. It can result in a desynchronized start, increasing the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, impaired cognitive function, and weakened immune system.
When the body is in a more relaxed state, it can maintain an improved hormone balance, which would imply a decreased rate of developing diseases.
In the journal, Personality and Individual Differences, a published 2012 study stated that grateful people are likely to experience fewer pains and aches. Apart from reporting feeling healthier as compared to others, they are also more likely to take active measures to keep themselves healthy. Not only do they exercise more often, but they also attend regular doctor check-ups, which contributes to their longevity further.
Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough, two renowned psychologists from the University of California and the University of Miami, also have to contribute to the existing body of research on gratitude. In one study, participants were asked to write a few sentences focusing on specific topics every week. One group had to focus on things they were grateful for, while the other focused on the things that irritated or displeased them.
After ten weeks, the results showed that participants who focused more on gratitude were more optimistic and had a greater sense of well-being. Interestingly, they also paid fewer visits to the physicians and exercised more.
Though these studies may not be able to prove the cause and effect, they do support a correlation between gratitude and individual well-being.
Ways to Practice Gratitude
If you want to learn how to practice gratitude, we might be able to help. Try out these few things to make gratitude a habit –
- Make a List – Sit down every week to reflect on everything you are grateful for and pen them down.
- Thank-You Notes – Express your appreciation of another human being by writing them a thank-you note. Make it a habit to send at least one gratitude letter every month.
- Gratitude Journal – Instead of making a concise list, you can write expansive notes about everything positive that happened to you in the day.
Ways to Practice Gratitude (INFOGRAPHIC)
If you have never tried it before, it may not come naturally to you in the beginning. But if you have a family to call your home and food to fill, you have things you can be grateful for today.