The 4 Health Benefits of Gratitude

thank you signage

Does gratitude do more than make you feel better?

1. Decreases a Rapid Heart Rate

“During the gratitude intervention, we observed decreased Heart Rate compared to the resentment intervention.”(1)

Palpitations are a common reason to come into the doctor’s office. Palpitations could be a sign of something serious such as a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia. Oftentimes, palpitations aren’t related to any one specific illness. They are likely the result of chronic shallow breathing, chronic anxiety, and overall disengagement from the body.

This interesting study determined that having studied participants participate in a gratitude intervention, lowered heart rate is compared to focusing on a resentful activity.

What is interesting about this study is that the behavioral intervention starts off identically. They are meditative exercises in which the individuals are instructed to relax. The difference is that in the gratitude intervention the participants were encouraged to focus on gratitude while in the resentment intervention the participants were encouraged to think of things that make them angry or upset. They were purposely encouraged to ruminate  negative thoughts and emotions.

Here is the example of the interventions used in the study. I tried an abbreviated version on myself. I noted that I felt worse doing the resentment intervention as well. I felt short of breath during and after the resentment exercise.

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

How many of us do this on a regular basis? Reading the study I became fascinated with my own thoughts. I soon notice that when I think thoughts of reason I do feel more tension in my chest and upper back. When I think thoughts of gratitude I noticed my energy improves and my pulse seems to come down.

Eases Depression

“Gratitude may be beneficial for improving psychological health in individuals with IBD or arthritis.”(2)

Depression is a serious disease that must be managed just as any other chronic disease such as cancer or diabetes. Depression can be improved by using positive psychological tools such as Gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal is an easy task that requires only writing tools and a few minutes.

Cools the Fire of Inflammation

“Patients expressing more gratitude also ha[ve] lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker index” (3)

Patients suffering from heart failure are known to have elevated inflammatory biomarkers.  These are labs that can be assessed to see if the body is in an overall state of inflammation.  Researchers studied the effects of gratitude on patients suffering from heart failure.  People with heart failure often have elevated levels of inflammatory markers such as C-Reactive Protein, Tumor Necrosis Factor, and Interleukin levels.   70 study participants were divided into two groups,  one group was asked to keep a Gratitude  Journal, the other group was not given a gratitude assignment.  The gratitude assignment was to spend 5 minutes writing about what each person was grateful for.  The individuals who were in the gratitude group had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their labs.  This implies that gratitude can slow down some of the biological factors that accelerate heart failure.

Soothes Chronic Pain

“Patients with knee/hip OA who receive care at a major academic VA medical center, we found that a six-week intervention focused on building positive psychological skills such as gratitude and kindness significantly reduced OA symptom severity and improved measures of well-being. ” (4)

Osteoarthritis is a common condition. Osteoarthritis is a combination of mechanical damage, inflammation, and lack of the body’s ability to repair a joint that leads to pain, swelling, and disability. Pain relief for osteoarthritis is complex, as it depends on the severity, joint, involved, and if there is loss of function. Many of the treatment for osteoarthritis cause side effects, such as NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), cause side effects.

Gratitude can be an intervention that has no side effects, and offer pain relief for a chronic condition.

References

1 .Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J. J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific reports, 7(1), 5058. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

2. Sirois, F. M., & Wood, A. M. (2017). Gratitude uniquely predicts lower depression in chronic illness populations: A longitudinal study of inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 36(2), 122–132. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000436

3. Mills, P. J., Redwine, L., Wilson, K., Pung, M. A., Chinh, K., Greenberg, B. H., Lunde, O., Maisel, A., Raisinghani, A., Wood, A., & Chopra, D. (2015). The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients. Spirituality in clinical practice (Washington, D.C.), 2(1), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1037/scp0000050

4. Hausmann, L., Youk, A., Kwoh, C. K., Ibrahim, S. A., Hannon, M. J., Weiner, D. K., Gallagher, R. M., & Parks, A. (2017). Testing a Positive Psychological Intervention for Osteoarthritis. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 18(10), 1908–1920. https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnx141