Wednesday, November 27th, 2019
Thankfulness good for health, state of happiness
By Leslie Gartrell
Thanksgiving is a time for Americans to reflect on those things for which they are thankful.
Whether it be family, friends, food or all of the above, a sense of gratitude can result in a healthier, happier life.
"It's healthful to be grateful," said Auglaize County Board of Health medical director Dr. Juan Torres. He said he's always heard that "gratitude is good for your health" from others and wondered if the topic had been researched.
Based on several studies, Torres said he was pleased to find real science behind the sentiment.
Research suggests that gratitude may be associated with many benefits, including better physical and psychological health, better sleep, less fatigue, greater vitality and less anxiety.
In general, grateful people are happier, more satisfied with their lives, less materialistic and less likely to suffer from burnout.
Torres said participants in one study were asked to keep a gratitude journal. Keeping the journal led participants to report less physical pain, more time spent exercising, more sleep, fewer physical symptoms and increased sleep quality.
Another study suggested gratitude and other positive emotions may relieve pain, Torres said. This would explain why grateful people report fewer aches and pains - they're less sensitive to pain and benefit from greater pain tolerance.
People with various medical and psychological challenges can benefit from gratitude, Torres said. One study found that more grateful cardiac patients reported better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of cellular inflammation.
Another study found that heart failure patients who kept a gratitude journal for eight weeks were more grateful and had reduced signs of inflammation afterward. Several studies have found that more grateful people experience less depression and are more resilient after traumatic events, Torres said.
Gratitude can also lower blood pressure, he added. Negative emotions create a chain reaction in the body - blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises and the immune system is weakened. The constant imbalance can strain the heart and other organs and eventually lead to serious health problems.
Torres noted one study had patients with hypertension count their blessings once a week. Participants had a significant decrease in their systolic blood pressure.
Gratitude activates the parasympathetic - the rest-and-digest relaxing part of the nervous system - resulting in positive effects such as decreases in cortisol levels, lowering of blood pressure and strengthening of the immune system, he explained.
Other studies have found that more grateful adolescents are more interested and satisfied with their school lives, are more kind and helpful and are more socially integrated, Torres said.
He suggested people meditate on what they're thankful for this time of year, count their blessings and contemplate what's really valuable.
"There are things without material value in abundance to be grateful for," he said.
Optimism and positive emotions in general have been shown to extend people's lifespans, Torres said. Considering all the health benefits gratitude provides, Torres said it's fair to say being grateful likely increases life expectancy.
"Being grateful not only gives you more years of life, but it gives you more years to live a happy life," said Torres.