Gratitude has incredible benefits for those who practice it. Cultivating gratitude not only promotes emotional well-being by keeping stress under control, but also has positive repercussions on physical health.
Unsurprisingly, gratitude is good for emotional health. It is more curious and interesting that it improves physical health, especially in a culture like ours, based on the principle of mens sana in corpore sano . In fact, this is a two-way street, because the same principle also works the other way around – healthy body in healthy mind.
The good news is that any form of thanksgiving allows us to improve our health, thanks to the neurological effects that gratitude has on us.
A recent study, published in April of this year, found that people who show and receive gratitude report getting less sick and sleeping better. While the immediate effects of gratitude are clear, experts say gratitude also contributes to the lasting success of relationships with others and personal well-being.
Gratitude is good for the whole body
Improve brain functioning
A 2009 study by researchers from the US National Institute of Health (NHI) found that the hypothalamus is activated when we feel gratitude or when we do something with selfless intent. While it may be hard to believe, this research supports the hypothesis that, literally, we cannot function well without gratitude, because the hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates important bodily functions, such as appetite, sleep, etc. temperature, metabolism and growth.
The good news is that gratitude is addictive, in the good sense of the word. Good deeds and expressions of gratitude release large amounts of dopamine, a natural reward that works as a stimulus to motivate you to cultivate gratitude.
Improve health and relieve physical pain
It can be hard to believe that something as simple as being grateful can relieve physical pain. However, this is true, many studies confirm it. For example, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences , the grateful people experience less pain and enjoy better health than others.
Not surprisingly, as gratitude promotes the release of dopamine, the symptoms of physical pain are reduced. This is because dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in pain processing and its analgesic effect is very important.
Research in general has also identified an increased interest in health and physical activity on the part of grateful people. In fact, those who cultivate gratitude play sports more regularly, as well as undergo periodic medical check-ups, which likely contributes to their longevity.
On the other hand, it has been shown that, in regards to physical health, gratitude can lower blood pressure and improve immune function. Gratitude is also associated with higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).
It is also linked to a reduction in creatinine levels, an indicator of the kidneys’ ability to filter out waste from the bloodstream. It also lowers levels of C reactive protein, a marker of heart inflammation and heart disease in general.
One of the reasons that gratitude helps with emotional and physical well-being is because it significantly improves the quality of sleep. Numerous scientific studies on gratitude have led to the same conclusions: gratitude increases the quality of rest, reduces the time it takes to reconcile sleep and prolongs its duration.
As we have already anticipated, sleep is one of the vital dimensions controlled by the hypothalamus, a structure activated by gratitude; sleep, therefore, is connected to multiple bodily functions, such as those related to anxiety, depression, pain and stress, without forgetting the immune system.
The secret is about the thoughts we have before going to sleep. If we are worried or something causes us anxiety, the stress level in the body increases, decreasing the quality of sleep, consequently we stay awake and sleep little. If, on the other hand, we think about the things we are grateful for, our thoughts induce a relaxation response that will help us sleep.
Sleeping better allows you to be more relaxed, which is good not only for mental health, but also for the heart and nervous system, as we are able to manage stress better.
A 2007 study involving patients with hypertension found a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure. Participants were asked to tell once a week the things they were grateful for. This research highlighted the importance of keeping a gratitude journal; as a result of this activity, in fact, a 10% reduction in blood pressure was found.
Other studies have shown that being grateful reduces the stress hormone cortisol and is also linked to higher levels of heart rate variability, a health signal that can help diagnose a stressful condition.
Gratitude increases resistance to trauma and stressful events and promotes healing after a traumatic episode.
Reduces anxiety and depression
Several studies on the benefits of being grateful have shown that keeping a gratitude journal, or writing and sending thank you messages over time, can increase our happiness by 10%. In this sense, a 2005 study found that the habit of writing a gratitude diary reduced participants’ level of depression by 30%.
Another more recent research found that all subjects with anxiety and depression who took part in the experiment of writing thank you notes showed significant changes in their behavior.
Through the magnetic resonance images, not only did it emerge an increase in neuronal modulation, caused by changes in the median prefrontal cortex, but also a better ability to manage negative emotions (such as guilt), as well as a greater propensity to show oneself. helpful, empathetic and kind.
A 2012 study by Chinese researchers found that gratitude has a profound effect on sleep with positive consequences for those suffering from anxiety and depression.
In depressed subjects, sleep quantity and quality were not associated with lower depression scores, which meant that gratitude relieved their depressive symptoms regardless of how much or how they slept. Therefore, one of the many benefits of gratitude can be the reduction of symptoms related to depression.
However, in anxious subjects, sleep and anxiety were correlated, which led the researchers to conclude that the lower anxiety scores were the result of adequate rest. Although indirectly, gratitude improved the quality of sleep, which, in turn, reduced the symptoms of anxiety.
Increase energy and vitality
With all these benefits, it’s no surprise that gratitude makes us stronger, mentally and physically. On the one hand, gratitude improves physical health; on the other hand, it helps us to be more optimistic and to have more energy.
Research on gratitude has repeatedly shown that grateful people have a higher energy level, are more relaxed, happier and healthier. This leads us to the conclusion that being thankful can extend our life expectancy.