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Does Giving Gratitude Guarantee Better Health?

December 15, 2011 12:08 PM
Dale Carnegie’s second Human Relations principle says to, “Give honest, sincere appreciation.”  In his best-selling business book of all time, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Mr. Carnegie explains how showing appreciation helps to develop and strengthen relationships because people love to be thanked.
 

As a child, I loathed writing thank you cards for birthday, holiday and ad hoc gifts, however as an adult, I find the activity quite cathartic and intrinsically rewarding.  A few weeks prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to explore if there was any scientific evidence supporting the notion that the expression of gratitude positively impacts the ‘thanker’ in addition to the recipient.

Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough are engaged in a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.  They explain that gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research as the benefits of expressing it range from better physical health to improved mental alertness.  Additionally, people who express gratitude are more likely to offer emotional support to others.

I was surprised to learn that throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders espoused gratitude as a virtue integral to health and well-being.  ”Thousands of years of literature talk about the benefits of cultivating gratefulness as a virtue,” says University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons.

Through a recent movement called positive psychology, mental health professionals are studying how virtues such as gratitude can benefit our health.  Here are a few promising results of their research:

  • According to an interview with Emmons by WebMD.com, grateful people defined as those who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind, have an edge on the not-so-grateful where health is concerned.  Emmons stated, “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations.”
  • While stress can stimulate sickness not limited to heart disease and cancer- and claims responsibility for up to 90% of all doctor visits, gratitude enables us to better manage stress. “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,” Emmons stated.
  • Not surprisingly, grateful people tend to think more optimistically which researchers say boosts the immune system.  Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah stated, “There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function.”   In one study, researchers comparing the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress found that, by midterm, students characterized as optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates.
  • Other researchers have found that focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life on a habitual basis is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.

So, don’t wait until Thanksgiving to express your sincere appreciation or gratitude for others.  By incorporating these expressions into your daily life, you will more than likely cultivate optimism, thwart sickness and live an overall healthier lifestyle.

 

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