Gratitude is good for the Heart – February Heart Healthy month

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

The leading cause of death for American men and women in the United states is heart disease, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths.

But here is some good news!  Research shows that feeling grateful doesn’t just make you feel good. It also helps — literally helps — the heart.

A positive mental attitude is good for your heart.  It fends off depression, stress and anxiety. This will decrease the risk of heart disease!

Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine specializes in disease processes and has been researching behavior and heart health for decades. He wondered if the very specific feeling of gratitude made a difference, too.

So he did a study. He recruited 186 men and women, average age 66, who already had some damage to their heart, either through years of sustained high blood pressure or as a result of heart attack or even an infection of the heart itself.

It turned out the more grateful people were, the healthier they were.  And when Mills did blood tests to measure inflammation, the body’s natural response to injury, or plaque buildup in the arteries, he found lower levels among those who were grateful — an indication of better heart health.

So Mills did a small follow-up study to look even more closely at gratitude.

  • He tested 40 patients for heart disease and noted biological indications of heart disease such as inflammation and heart rhythm.
  • Then he asked half of the patients to keep a journal most days of the week and write about two or three things they were grateful for.
  • People wrote about everything, from appreciating children to being grateful for spouses, friends, pets, travel, jobs and even good food.
  • After two months, Mills retested all 40 patients and found health benefits for the patients who wrote in their journals
  • And when he compared their heart disease risk before and after journal writing, there was a decrease in risk after two months of writing in their journals.

Mills isn’t sure exactly how gratitude helps the heart, but he thinks it’s because it reduces stress, a huge factor in heart disease.

Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional well-being and physical health than those who don’t.

If you want more happiness, joy, and energy, gratitude is clearly a crucial quality to cultivate.

  • Gratitude is a fullness of heart that moves us from limitation and fear to expansion and love.
  • When we’re appreciating something, our ego moves out of the way and we connect with our soul.
  • Gratitude brings our attention into the present.
  • The deeper our appreciation,  the more our life flows in harmony with creative power.

Here are three powerful gratitude practices for you to try.

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal: One of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice was Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:

  1. Who or what inspired me today?
  2. What brought me happiness today?
  3. What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

2. Write a Thank You Letter: Make a list of at least five people who have had a profound impact on your life. Choose one and write a thank you letter expressing gratitude for all the gifts you’ve received from that person. If possible, deliver your gratitude letter in person.

  • In studies of people who have practiced this form of gratitude, the results have been amazing.
  • Often the recipient of the letter had no idea what an impact he or she had had on another person and were deeply touched by the expression of such authentic gratitude.
  • While we may often thank people verbally, the written word can often be even more powerful because someone has taken the time to write their appreciation.
  • A letter can also be re-read and treasured, creating joy and love.

3. Take a Gratitude Walk. Set aside 20 minutes (or longer if you can) and walk in your neighborhood, through a park, around your office, or somewhere in nature. As you walk, consider the many things for which you are grateful … nurturing relationships, material comforts, the body that allows you to experience the world, the mind that allows you to really understand yourself, and your essential spiritual nature. Breathe, pause, and be grateful for the air that is filling your lungs and making your life possible.

Enjoy this 7-minute video about an experiment in Gratitude. A beautiful example of Gratitude practice number 2 – writing a letter expressing gratitude for all the gifts you’ve received from that person.

11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.