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Can Being Grateful Make Us Healthy?

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” – Henry Ward Beecher

October brings a time of Thanksgiving. We can be grateful for many things and sometimes gratitude just means that whatever we have seems enough. We can be grateful for good health even when we have health challenges. Can the converse be true? Can being grateful make us healthy?

There are limited studies on the relationship between gratitude and good health. It is difficult to know whether people who are in good health are simply grateful or whether their grateful attitude helps them achieve good health. There have been some interesting studies however. A study in 2003 by Emmons and McCullough found that students who kept a 10 week diary of things they were grateful for reported fewer headaches, stomach symptoms and aches and pains in comparison with students who simply journaled about the hassles they were facing in daily life.

Other studies have shown that people with heart failure and chronic pain who scored higher on a scale assessing gratefulness reported less sleep and fewer symptoms even when their markers of disease had not actually changed.

It is possible that people who are grateful also begin to become more mindful of their lifestyles. They may be more likely to engage in self-care, avoid self-injurious behaviors such as smoking, and be more cautious with diet and exercise. In addition, gratitude may increase happiness and act as a buffer against stress hormones.

It is not easy or simply automatic to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Like most things it takes discipline and work. One of the best ways to adapt a more grateful stance is to keep a gratitude journal. It does not need to be an intense journalistic exercise. Simply jotting down one or two things at the end of a day that one is grateful for can go a long way towards becoming more grateful. In a month where we give thanks by coming together as family, sharing a meal and enjoying the richness of fall, let us take some time to be inwardly grateful. It is good for our health.

 

Dr. Bhooma Bhayana is a family physician in London and the mother of two young men and grandmother of one lovely princess! She continues to find wonder and enjoyment in family practice despite more than 30 years on the job!

 

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