Effects of Gratitude – Your Gratitude Shows

When I was little girl we used to go to Waterton National Park for our summer vacation nearly every year. Mom and Dad would rent a smallish travel trailer – usually 16 – 18 feet long – something that would sleep six since there were five of us, and off we’d go for two weeks of hiking, playing on the shore (it’s a glacier-fed lake so too cold to swim in), and just wandering around the two block long ‘downtown’. Sometimes, Mom and Dad would just sit on a bench on Main Street and ‘people-watch’. I didn’t get why they would spend hours of their vacation people-watching. Funny, now I do.

I’ve taken to people-watching everywhere I go. I especially watch people who look older than I do. I try to assess if they look happy, healthy, and loved.

I wonder what people-watchers think when they look at me. A client gave me a wall-hanging of this poem many years ago:

like fine old lace,
weaves a pattern on each face.
What we do and what we think
leaves its imprint
just like ink.
If we fill our lives with hate,
ugliness will be our fate.
If we give out love and cheer,
lines of beauty
will appear.
— author unknown

I agree – what we fill our lives with shows up on our faces – and new research indicates it shows up in our bodies as well.

Researchers at University of California – San Diego and University of California – Davis have shown that the effects of gratitude have measurable impacts in the body. 186 people, all with a history of Stage B Heart Failure for at least three months (denoted by left ventricle issues including inflammation) were assessed for several factors including gratitude, spiritual well-being, depression, sleep quality, fatigue, self-efficacy (how involved the patient was in their own recovery program), and inflammatory markers as detected in blood tests. Patients were then asked to keep a gratitude journal for three months. In every case, all of the factors improved noticeably, including the presence of inflammatory markers in the blood.

People who had higher levels of gratitude and spirituality started with better assessments for every marker than people who were less grateful or had lower levels of spirituality.

“Gratitude and spiritual well-being are key positive factors to consider in this population. We documented that an attitude of gratitude is related to better mood and sleep, less fatigue, more self-efficacy, and a lower cellular inflammatory index. Untangling these relationships further, we found that higher trait gratitude mediates spiritual well-being’s positive effects on better sleep and less depressed mood (and to a lesser degree fatigue and cardiac-specific self-efficacy). These are potentially important observations because depressed mood and poor sleep are associated with worse prognosis in HF [heart failure] as well as other cardiac populations, and therefore interventions that increase levels of gratitude may have clinical implications for improving health outcomes (Canivet, Nilsson, Lindeberg, Karasek, & Ostergren, 2014; Huffman, Celano, Beach, Motiwala, & Januzzi, 2013; Rutledge et al., 2006). Given that interventions to increase gratitude are relatively simple and of low cost, efforts to increase gratitude in HF patients’ lives may be of potential clinical value and represent a treatment target for improving well-being.”1

What would people on the street say about you? And maybe more importantly, what does your body say about you?

1. http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/scp-0000050.pdf

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