Gratitude for health? Really? Yes. Being grateful really can help you with better health. We take look at how and why gratitude helps health, plus give you five tips to get started today!
There’s already so much information out there about how gratitude practice can help mental health, increase happiness and help you be more optimistic and positive. But did you know that gratitude can also improve your health? Oh yes. The research says so.
Who knew, just being thankful for the good things can help you feel better health-wise. But it’s hard, right? I was certainly not grateful for my Hashimoto’s Disease diagnosis… and after the last few awful weeks we’ve had (a miscarriage with our third baby, and desperately trying to find somewhere to live after our landlord served us notice unexpectedly) there hasn’t been a lot of gratitude in the Paleo & Co house.
Gratitude for health – the research:
Anyway, enough of the negativity and back to the research – this study looked at 962 Swiss adults (from age 19 to 84) with respect to their levels of gratitude, psychological health, health behaviors, and self-reported physical health. The researchers found that “dispositional gratitude correlated positively with self-reported physical health, and this link was mediated by psychological health, healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns.”
Or in English… people who had a grateful outlook had better physical health, which is helped by the fact that they had better psychological health, took part in healthy activities and were more likely to go to a doctor or get help if they did have any health issues.
Berkley University have also reported that keeping a gratitude journal lead to fewer headaches, less stomach pain, clearer skin and reduced congestion. And another Berkley study found that college students who wrote about things they were grateful for just once a week for ten weeks reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, shortness of breath, sore muscles, and nausea) than students who wrote about daily events or hassles.
Gratitude for heart health
Another study found that those who are grateful had significantly lower levels of haemoglobin AC1 in their red blood cells. High levels of HbAC1c are associated with an increased risk of heart failure and non-fatal heart attack. According to the researchers “HbA1C has also been implicated in poor blood sugar control in diabetes, as well as chronic kidney disease, a number of cancers, and overall risk of death.” Uh-oh. Not something you want then.
Gratitude for health and sleep
A report from 2012 showed that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. There’s also a bucket-load of research showing how grateful people sleep better – see here, here and here. And we all know in the Paleo community how sleep is one of the main cornerstones of health.
As I said earlier though, there hasn’t been much gratitude in the Paleo & Co house for the last month or so. Every dinner time we used to ask the kiddos what they were grateful for that day, but we’ve got out of the habit. And as we need a kick-start, we’ve done our research and found the best tips for all of us:
Gratitude for health – tips to get started today
1: Say it out loud
Have a daily discussion about gratefulness. It can be as simple as our ‘what are you grateful for today?’ question around the table at dinner time (or in the case of younger kids ‘what was the best bit about your day?’). You can also take this further with the mad/sad/glad discussion. What made you mad today? What made you sad today? What made you glad today? It’s a great way to start conversations with your kids after school and get information you wouldn’t usually get – but we also like that it ends on a positive note of gratitude.
2: Tell your inner critic to shut the hell up
I learned this one in therapy (more about that another time), but if you have that negative voice in your head (like most of us do), it’s reassuring to know that you can learn to control it. These negative thoughts stop you feeling grateful because negativity crowds out positivity. It’s just one of the ways gratitude for health works. I learned to quieten my inner critic by first recognising it, I then named the voice so I knew it wasn’t me – and when it started to talk, I just shot it down, with thoughts of “oh just shut up” (and much worse – but I’ll let you use your imagination!)
3: Stop judging
When you judge others it also means you’re constantly judging yourself. I realised I was prone to doing it (awful to admit OUT LOUD!) but since then I have a personal policy of no judgement. You want to let your kids run wild in the supermarket? No judgement. You want to walk your dog in your pyjamas? No judgement. You want to feed you kid Kit Kats for dinner….? Well I’m still working on it. But you get the point. No judgement means no judgement of others or myself. Try it. It can make such a difference – to gratitude and to your health!
4: Be mindful (and practice makes perfect helps)
Being in the present moment helps us to appreciate what we’ve got. We are usually constantly in the past worrying about what has gone before, or in the future worrying about what has yet to come (or on our phones trying to distract ourselves from those worries! Yes, we’re guilty of that too). By practicing being in the moment you can enjoy, and be grateful for right now – whether that’s a walk in the sunshine or a lovely piece of Paleo cake. And if you find mindfulness difficult the Headspace app is great. (NOTE: this is NOT an affiliate link, we do NOT get paid to promote Headspace – we just love it!)
5: Write it down
Try a Gratitude Journal. This one seems obvious, but it’s hard to stick to. To make it work you need to make it a habit – so pick a set time each day, for example just before going to bed – and jot down one or two things you are grateful for. Don’t worry about how it sounds, no one else is going to read it. It’s actually the practice of thinking about it and writing it down that makes the difference – it rewires your brain to think positively. See here.
So there we have it, gratitude for health is the way forward. Do you practice gratitude? How has it made a difference to you life? And what are you grateful for today? We’d love to hear! Add your comment below.