By Dr. Dana Myatt
Thanksgiving isn’t the only time of year when we should take stock of all the positive things in our lives.
While it might sound like so much New Age woo-woo, there is plenty of scientific proof that cultivating an “Attitude of Gratitude” is healthy in many ways.
Here are the proven benefits of being thankful for what we’ve got:
Proven benefits of an Attitude of Gratitude
• Increased sense of happiness and well-being
• Improved mood and decreased depression
• Improved mood and decreased depression in patients with chronic disease
• Decreased fear of recurrence in cancer survivors
• Improved recovery from heart attack
• Improved sleep
• Lower blood pressure
• Reduced stress
Here’s what happens when we are NOT thankful for what we’ve got
A study from Stanford University shows that stress, such as is created when someone complains, causes shrinking of neurons in an area of the brain called the hippocampus – an area vital to memory. The hippocampus is the same area that is damaged in Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers found that stress released hormones called glucocorticoids which caused the shrinkage effects.
One of those glucocorticoid hormones that is released with the stress that results from complaining is cortisol – a fight-or-flight hormone that directs oxygen, blood, and energy away from everything that isn’t essential to your immediate survival. One of the effects of cortisol is to increase both blood pressure and blood sugar so that your body is ready to run or fight – and chronic stress can lead to chronically increased blood pressure and increased risk of stroke, and chronically high blood sugars, leading to an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Cortisol also impairs immunity.
Think your life is miserable? The more you think that, the more miserable you will become.
Think your life is O.K. and count all the ways it is O.K.? You’ll be fine. Your life will become increasingly better.
The more you think a thought, the easier it becomes to think that thought. It’s how the brain works, something we call “habit.” Keep rehearsing a negative thought and it gets easier to think it over time. Fortunately, it’s the same with positive thoughts. As one researcher said: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Or, in layman’s terms, “ruts long traveled grow deep.”
If your habit is to count all the ways you are hard-done-by, you will feel miserable and your health will suffer and your brain may shrink. If you count all the ways in which your life is pretty darned good, you will feel happy and content with your life and your health will be a whole lot better for it..
So Stop Your Pissing and Moaning!
Unless you are in serious pain from a disease (your doctor should be able to help with this), stop the complaining would you! You are hurting yourself and those around you who have to endure all your negative energy.
Count your blessings, drop the “counting negatives” and experience the physical and mental health benefits of gratitude all year long.
Increased sense of happiness and well-being
Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Feb;84(2):377-89.
Proyer RT, Gander F, Wellenzohn S, Ruch W. Positive psychology interventions in people aged 50-79 years: long-term effects of placebo-controlled online interventions on well-being and depression. Aging Ment Health. 2014;18(8):997-1005
Wood AM1, Froh JJ, Geraghty AW. Gratitude and well-being: a review and theoretical integration. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010 Nov;30(7):890-905.
Hill PL, Allemand M, Roberts BW. Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood. Pers Individ Dif. 2013 Jan;54(1):92-96.
Improved mood and decreased depression
Improved mood and decreased depression in patients with chronic disease
Eaton RJ, Bradley G, Morrissey S. Positive predispositions, quality of life and chronic illness. Psychol Health Med. 2014;19(4):473-89.
Sirois FM, Wood AM. Gratitude Uniquely Predicts Lower Depression in Chronic Illness Populations: A Longitudinal Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Arthritis. Health Psychol. 2016 Oct 27. [Epub ahead of print]
Ng MY, Wong WS. The differential effects of gratitude and sleep on psychological distress in patients with chronic pain. J Health Psychol. 2013 Feb;18(2):263-71.
Decreased fear of recurrence in cancer survivors
Otto AK, Szczesny EC, Soriano EC, Laurenceau JP, Siegel SD. Effects of a randomized gratitude intervention on death-related fear of recurrence in breast cancer survivors. Health Psychol. 2016 Dec;35(12):1320-1328. Epub 2016 Aug 11.
Improved recovery from heart attack
Millstein RA, Celano CM, Beale EE, et al. The effects of optimism and gratitude on adherence, functioning and mental health following an acute coronary syndrome. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2016 Nov – Dec;43:17-22.
Jackowska M, Brown J, Ronaldson A, Steptoe A.The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. J Health Psychol. 2016 Oct;21(10):2207-17.
Lower blood pressure
ibid Jackowska M,
Cheng, Sheung-Tak; Tsui, Pui Ki; Lam, John H. M. Improving mental health in health care practitioners: Randomized controlled trial of a gratitude intervention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 83(1), Feb 2015, 177-186
Shrinking brain with stress
Robert Sapolsky, New studies of human brains show stress may shrink neurons. Stanford University News Service 8/14/96. http://news.stanford.edu/pr/96/960814shrnkgbrain.html
Posted in Mental Health | No Comments »