Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier

kali's picture

It isn’t hard to find evidence that the world is pretty messed up: daily newspaper headlines describe homicides and natural disasters, TV anchors investigate pilots gone rogue – from the grumpy lady in front of you at the grocery store to late night television hosts, everyone’s got a negative story to highlight.  There is certainly no shortage of disappointment, destruction and depression.


Have you ever wondered if these negative attitudes affect your health?  Turns out, they do.  And gratitude – the practice of focusing on the positive – improves it.  If you adopt a way of seeing the world that focuses on the negative, you’re going to live in a very tough world.  Research is showing that by focusing on the positive, through gratitude, your mental and physical health will benefit, your moods will be better, and your marriage may last longer.


One such study, from the University of California at Davis partnered with the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants to one of three tasks.  Each participant was asked to keep a short weekly journal.  The first group briefly described five things that they were grateful for that had happened in the past week; the second recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them; and the third group was asked to list five events that affected them, but they weren’t asked to focus on positive or negative.  After ten weeks, those in the gratitude group were found to be 25% happier than the hassled group.  They reported fewer health complaints, and even exercised for an average of 1.5 hours more per week.


Positive outlook attracts positive outcomes.


In a follow-up study, the same researchers asked people to write every day about things they were grateful for.  Not surprisingly, doing gratitude journaling daily lead to even greater increases in gratitude and happiness than did the weekly journaling.  But the results showed an even greater benefit: participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that practicing gratitude increased their empathy (or goodwill) towards others.  Just think of how different the line at the grocery store could be if, instead of complaining about the weather, that lady in line in front of you helped an elderly person empty their cart and genuinely asked about their day.


An article on gratitude that I read recently observed “if you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.”  Not surprisingly, research on gratitude shows that the more grateful we are, the less depressed we are.  A clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, Philip Watkins, found that clinically depressed individuals show nearly 50% less gratitude than non-depressed controls.


In order to cultivate these benefits for yourself, choose one or more of the following daily exercises that take less than 5 minutes of your time:


1. Keep a daily journal of three unique things every day that you are grateful for.  These don’t have to be earth-shattering – you could be grateful that avocados were on sale at the market.  Choose a consistent time of day (like right before bed), and write down your gratitude thoughts in a journal.  Studies show that the act of writing these thoughts down increases their power over simply thinking them.


2. While you’re brushing your teeth or doing your makeup, take a second to look yourself in the eye and remind yourself about something you see that you love.


3. Make it a habit to tell someone special something you appreciate about him or her every single day.  Gratitude, when shared, has an exponential effect.


It’s too easy to get caught up in the negative drama that’s all around us.  But when we take a second to show gratitude and thankfulness, things actually get better.  In this case, rose-coloured glasses are far from overrated.


If you want to learn more techniques for cultivating gratitude, or more about the health benefits of self care and relaxation techniques, ask me when you see me around at Acubalance. 



In health and gratitude,

Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND
Naturopathic Doctor