The Health Benefits of Gratitude

Good morning, y’all, and happy Tuesday!

As I wrote last week, my goal of late has been to focus on — and be grateful for  — the things I do have. That’s not to say that I want to ignore or not deal with the sadness of my preliminary diagnosis, but rather to acknowledge and process the bad stuff while focusing on the good stuff.

After all, the practice of cultivating gratitude has some pretty profound effects on both physical and emotional health. Some of those benefits include better sleep, improved mood, greater social connectedness, a greater tendency to exercise (!!!), deeper relationships, increased longevity, increased productivity…the list goes on.

According to a growing body of research on gratitude (some of which was cited in a recent article published on HuffPost), “those who view life as a gift experience a boatload of benefits, from a better mood to stronger relationships to better health and resilience. Gratitude, in a sense, is a muscle and as such requires exercise to stay fit and functional.”

In that same article, the author delves into some of the details on the research:

  • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison …
  • In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons and McCullough, 2003) …
  • Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions …
  • Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.

I started keeping a gratitude journal in college, and it made a world of difference. Even though I don’t always write things down any more, I still have a nightly ritual of choosing five things from my day to be thankful for before I go to sleep. There are certainly bad days when it’s a struggle to come up with five new things — and when that happens, I have no trouble relying on gratitude for what I refer to as my Big Five: my family, my husband, my friends, books, and coffee. (Priorities, amirite? Basically, relationships, books, and coffee form the Holy Trinity of my life.)

While I have plenty of practice with a basic, baseline level of gratitude, I’m trying to kick it up a notch in order to help deal with the stress of these recent medical shenanigans. I’ve been making a concerted effort to focus on the things I do have — so, with that in mind, here’s a wee list of things I’m diggin’ and for which I’m thankful:

  • I said this yesterday, but it bears repeating: I’m so very grateful for all the kind comments, emails, and messages we’ve gotten from people in the wake of our news. Old friends from high school and college have come out of the woodwork on Facebook to tell me their own similar stories, and peoples’ kindness has been overwhelming.
  • Summer thunderstorms: I loooove me a good thunderstorm, and last night didn’t disappoint. We’re also due for another round of storms tomorrow night, and I might be just a tad excited (and by “a tad,” I mean absurdly) about it. Yet another awesome thing about our new apartment is that we have a great view of the westward sky, so when thunderstorms blow in, I’m able to stand at the window and giddily watch the lightning show outside.
  • Vitamin and probiotics gummies! Y’all, I’m a child at heart…and apparently in my taste buds, too. I saw Li’l Critters calcium and vitamin D gummies at Costco, and I ordered some Rainbow Light probiotic gummies from Amazon — and they’re the bomb diggity. I’m a goner when it comes to sweet, chewy candies, so the fact that these things taste candy-like while also being healthy as all get-out is a major win in my book.
  • The fact that one of my orchids is blooming: I love the sight of a happy plant, and this orchid is happy indeed.
  • My upcoming urban gardening project: I have 90% of the necessary supplies to set up my little herb garden on our deck! Now all I need are the seeds (they should be arriving from Amazon this week), as well as a plant stand. We’re scouring the ends of the earth for a reasonably priced, 4′ or higher plant stand; while I found a perfect one on Amazon, it’s a whopping $75…and we’d rather not shell out that much dough if we don’t have to. This weekend could very well involve a trek to Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot in search of the right thing, but I don’t mind dealing with the crowds in the name of setting up my wee herb garden.
  • There was an unacceptably long period of time (by which I mean about  one week, but it my gawd, did it ever feel like aaaaaaages) in which I ran out of my beloved Toasted Almond java from Le Target. Oy gevault, did I ever miss it. It was horrible, y’all.  I finally made it back to Target to re-stock, and each morning I find myself thanking the coffee gods that this wondrous stuff is back in my possession.
  • My dad happened to have a long-standing plan to visit DC this past weekend, and it was wonderful to see him — especially since it was at a time when I needed a little bit of extra bolstering. On Sunday morning we took a long walk on the Mount Vernon Trail and talked for hours about my possible diagnosis, my job, my hopes for the future, and a bajillion other things. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful family — the fact that I can spend hours having honest, open, and supportive talks with my parents and my brother is hugely awesome.

So, with all that in mind, I want to hear from you lovely people:

What are you thankful for?

Have you ever kept a gratitude journal?

What element of  the health benefits associated with gratitude do you find most compelling?

20 thoughts on “The Health Benefits of Gratitude

  1. Dana June 11, 2013 / 8:09 am

    I love that you’re doing this gratitude stuff! Certain days are better than others for sure, but you seem to have that concept down already ! I too am a HUGE T-storm fan! They make me smile. I’m very thankful for my husband, supportive and loving families, my dog, and trivial yet crucial items in life like Nutella and coffee!!!

    I’ve always meant to keep a journal like that but, I can always start that back up! 🙂

    Gratitude is a great tool to think about in this nutty life. I like to change the way I look at things and eventually those things I looked at , changed. There’s an actual quote of that I think. It’s very true! Thinking of ya lady! You rock!

  2. Charlotte @ Commitness to Fitness June 11, 2013 / 8:27 am

    Ahh I’m obsessed with this post!! My mom always said gratitude was the key to healthy, positive living, but I have never kept a gratitude journal. That changes now. I’m going to start. Perception is everything- the exact same thing that I can be all moody over can instantly change into a positive experience when I think about it with gratitude. It’s an immediate change from negative to positive.

    I love your attitude towards life! and I love that you love gummy vitamins! I have the multi-vites. SO good. have a beautiful day lovely!

  3. chasingchels June 11, 2013 / 8:41 am

    Beautiful post love 🙂 i’m a big believer in the importance of gratitude, but i think i’m going to keep a gratitude journal daily…think it will help some attitude wackiness i’ve experienced recently. I’m glad you had a great visit with your dad, love 🙂 happy tuesday!

  4. riversidebaking June 11, 2013 / 9:26 am

    I’m currently reading ’59 seconds’ and there is loads of research backing this up, its so interesting! I might have to do a little gratitude post myself!

  5. Taryn June 11, 2013 / 9:55 am

    I did a happiness journal instead – at the end of each day I wrote down three things that made me happy throughout the day. It made me really appreciate the smaller things.. and there were plenty of days when 3 just wasn’t enough because so many things had made me happy. In addition to turning my mood around at the end of some days, it showed me what I really value in my life, what made me the happiest. I think it’s a great idea to do.. and it’s honestly something I’d like to start doing again.

    Unrelated, but umm.. gummy probiotics?! I need them! I’ve been looking for a good/inexpensive probiotic anyway, and I mean, you just can’t go wrong with gummies.

  6. Becky @ Olives n Wine June 11, 2013 / 9:55 am

    I love the idea of a gratitude journal! I think it is much too easy to for us to focus on the “not so good” things in our life when we have so much to be thankful for. I needed this post today 🙂

  7. Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama June 11, 2013 / 10:02 am

    Let’s start with the obvious – you are AWESOME, and this post is just further evidence of your AWESOMENESS! Love your positive attitude toward life and gratitude for all it brings, whether it’s simple pleasures or life-altering relationships. I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal, and when I start to feel grumpy, I just remind myself of all of the amazing things in my life, like my incredible husband, amazing daughters, supportive family, and fabulous friends. I also feel deep gratitude that my husband and I have great jobs that allow us to provide for our family and do things many other families cannot. We are so lucky. Thanks for a great post to start the day!

  8. megbek June 11, 2013 / 10:05 am

    Your writing is beautiful and evokes such a wonderful feeling when I read it. You have a way of conveying thoughts that is absolutely heart warming. I love today’s post on gratitude – because it’s so incredibly important to remember the be thankful for everything. I know it has great effects on humans because I’ve learned over the past couple of years, growing up an all, that it’s so much healthier to be thankful and appreciative than the opposite. In particular, my mental state has dramatically improved since I’ve chosen to be grateful. I sleep better, I have better relationships and it’s all because of my mental state. Glad you could get your coffee and enjoy a thunder storm – have fun with the one tonight! 🙂 You are inspiring. Enjoy your day, pretty.

  9. Liz @ The Girl on Fire Now June 11, 2013 / 10:42 am

    I have kept a gratitude journal … like a year ago. I’m thinking I will start back up with that. Honestly, you are so inspiring that you are still talking about gratitude even after you have been hit hard with some not good news. Thanks for the reminder to count my blessings, not my problems!

  10. thepaceofitall June 11, 2013 / 11:37 am

    That’s really interesting that there are health benefits tied to be grateful, I had no idea.. but I suppose it makes sense! And that’s neat that you kept a gratitude journal, I kind of want to start one now. Thanks!

  11. livliveslife June 11, 2013 / 6:46 pm

    I love the idea of thinking of gratitude as a muscle. What a great way to look at it.
    You have a great list there. I’ve said it already, but I so admire your positivity. You’re inspirational!

  12. aftertheivyleague June 11, 2013 / 9:04 pm

    Gratitude really is such an amazing thing. It’s amazing how much happier you are when you take the time to consider all of your blessings, and focus your mind on them instead of what might not be going well in life. I love the idea of keeping a gratitude journal!

  13. Jorie June 12, 2013 / 9:05 am

    I’m not a religious person, but if there is one thing I believe in, it’s gratitude. Simply saying thank you to the universe/the cosmos/the big man upstairs for all the blessings around you. It really DOES make for a happier existence! P.S. Lillian, you won my giveaway on Monday! Can you email me your shipping info and the two prints you’d like to receive? ( Thanks, girl, and congrats!

    • musingsoftheamusingmuse June 12, 2013 / 9:39 pm

      Amen! I’m not religious either, but gratitude for what I have and the things people do for me is HUGE to me.

  14. musingsoftheamusingmuse June 12, 2013 / 9:44 pm

    I don’t keep a gratitude journal (sometimes I think I should, but that’s too much commitment), but do perform a mental rundown most nights of what I am thankful for that I started about 12 years ago when diagnosed with arrhythmia, usually starting with “I’m grateful to be alive”.

    I enjoy, and am grateful, many, many things… from my weekly peppermint mocha to the flowers blooming, the thunderstorms rolling through all the way on up to being one of those lucky people who is able to budget for vacations.

    Life is an adventure for which I am eternally grateful!

  15. asklotta June 14, 2013 / 9:52 am

    Love, love, love your gratitude post. I think if your 5 appreciation ritual was taught to every child in school we could solve our school violence. I love being on the gratitude road…it ALWAYS deliveries me to joy and happiness! Great posting! I’m going to reblog this on Tuesday! Stay safe!!!

  16. Melissa Lee June 18, 2013 / 9:36 am

    I guess I first began to work with “gratitude” when Oprah introduced “Simple Abundance” to the world. I began keeping a gratitude journal, that I’m not so good about now but need to rethink. To me gratitude is what life is all about….finding the space within to say thank you, no matter what is going on in the world around us. That simple thank you and recognition of all of the abundance we have in our lives, even the tiniest things, makes life much happier. And happier means healthier. I have more energy, feel more loving and alive….gratitude is the best medicine, next to laughter!

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