Being grateful can be good for your overall health

Gobble. Gobble. Gobble. Be grateful. Be grateful. Be grateful. In the past decade or so I have seen the movement of having gratitude grow to become almost preachy.

When it comes to finding a grateful heart, I have experienced both sides of the coin.

On one side, I have experienced a deep residing struggle to find an internal place of gratitude and feeling — as in, if one more person suggests finding a state of gratitude, I may just have a temper tantrum.

On the other side, I also have experienced the power of gratitude in my own life and its positive impact on my health.

With this being Thanksgiving week, I decided to look up some research on the topic to see if gratitude has validity among researchers to actually improve our health. 

Research indeed shows that having gratitude positively affects something researchers call “emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Gratitude also has a strong positive correlation with our subjective well-being. In other words, when we have gratitude, we think we experience more contentment in our lives.

In my research, I also found some indications of how gratitude chemically increases our emotional well-being. For example, one research article in a neuroscience journal shows how expressing gratitude affects a gene called CD38, which is involved in the production of a hormone called oxytocin.

Oxytocin is thought to play a central role in promoting close social bonds. The study found that expressing gratitude resulted in polymorphisms in the gene that increased oxytocin in the system, thereby increasing our ability to experience meaningful relationships. 

So it’s possibile that feelings of gratitude may affect multiple genes involved in the production of multiple hormones.

Knowing that gratitude indeed can make us feel better both subjectively and objectively, it is not far reaching to understand the impact it can have on our pain, digestive complaints, anxiety and depression.

Psychologist Paula King says, “Gratitude enhances health and well-being in a direct manner by releasing neurotransmitters in the brain that cascade throughout the body, bringing not only a feeling of well-being, but also a direct positive effect on a person’s physiology.”

When we are bathing in a happy hormone soup, we are more likely to feel better physically and emotionally.

Athena Fouts, a professional full-time working mother of three, has this to say about her experience with finding gratitude: “I try to carry a feeling of gratitude every day, which overall gives me a sense of calmness, peace, happiness, improved morale, increased energy and a positive spirit.

“Carrying a feeling of gratitude helps me to think things through first before acting when in a temporary stressful situation instead of rushing into a decision that may not be the right one. It also helps me to look at the world around me in a more positive light. I also feel healthier when I feel grateful for all I have instead of feeling down and sorry for myself for what I do not have.”

If you find it challenging to move into a place of gratitude, interventions can be helpful. Consider a massage, art therapy, an Epsom salt bath, a walk through your favorite place outdoors, acupuncture, reading a book or finding a quiet place to sit and take some deep breaths.

You may be thinking, “But I’m too busy to do any of those things.”

In that case, I suggest you decide to put yourself first and make the time.

King also suggests gratitude journals and gratitude reflections before sleep and first thing in the morning, as a means of beginning and ending a day on an uplifting note. People have a choice as to what they hold consistently in mind, and holding gratitude is a life-giving practice to develop.

I would like to express my gratitude to each and every reader of The Daily Sentinel’s “Health Matters” column. Sharing insights with you about health and healing and hearing your affirming feedback has been one of the highlights of my year, and I am looking forward to many columns to come.

Blessings to you, and please have a happy Thanksgiving.

Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and a licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine.

Learn more at http://www.hhacumed.com, or call Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions at 256-8449.


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