Giving thanks and expressing gratitude promotes health and happiness

By: Dr. Alyssa Musgrove

Thanksgiving Table SettingEach year, on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather together with friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving. While the ritual of giving thanks once a year is certainly beneficial, research suggests expressing gratitude more often could actually be life-changing.

According to studies, the benefits of gratitude rituals, be it giving thanks at mealtime, keeping a gratitude journal or sending thank-you notes, include:

  • Improved sleep, especially if your mind has a tendency to go into overdrive with negative thoughts and worries at bedtime
  • Higher levels of happiness and a more optimistic outlook on life
  • Greater likelihood to engage in healthy activities such as exercise
  • Higher relationship satisfaction
  • Higher work performance (in one study, managers who expressed gratitude saw a 50 percent increase in the employees’ performance)

EEGStudies have also shown that gratitude can produce a number of measurable effects on systems in your body, all of which can translate into improved health. Biological systems positively affected by gratitude include stress hormones, inflammatory and immune systems, blood sugar, blood pressure, cardiac and EEG rhythms, and cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters.

Depending on the kind of year you’ve had, you may or may not feel like you have a whole lot to feel thankful for. If that is the case, you may be wondering if it’s still worth trying to express thanks. In a New York Times article addressing the subject, Arthur C. Brooks, Ph.D., writes:

“In a nutshell, acting grateful can actually make you grateful. For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult … Beyond rotten circumstances, some people are just naturally more grateful than others … But we are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances, and genes. Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness … If you want a truly happy holiday, choose to keep the ‘thanks’ in Thanksgiving, whether you feel like it or not.”

The proven benefits of gratitude are such that your expression of it to a single day each year is definitely to your own detriment. If you’re unsure of where, or how, to start, consider starting by giving thanks privately in a journal or in prayer. Once this has become a comfortable habit, move on to expressing your gratitude publicly. Writing thank-you notes, saying thank you in person, or otherwise publicly proclaiming your gratitude all fall into this category.  

Starting each day thinking of all the things you have to be thankful for is another way to put your mind on the right track. Before getting out of bed in the morning, think of five things for which you are thankful. It can be as simple as the comfortable bed you slept in, the roof over your head, having central heat and air conditioning, the sun shining, or the birds singing. If you forget to start the day with thankful thoughts, try writing down a few things you are grateful for before turning in for the night. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found people slept better and longer when they spent about 15 minutes reflecting on things they were grateful for prior to going to sleep.

Gratitude JournalPractice being thankful for what you have. Create a list of 100 things you are grateful for in your life. You can list them in categories such as people, experiences you have had, qualities and abilities you have, etc. When life gives you 100 reasons to cry, your list can help you remember the many reasons you have to smile. Also, remember your future depends largely on the thoughts you think today. Each moment is an opportunity to turn your thinking around, thereby helping or hindering your ability to think and feel more positively in the very next moment.

Thankfulness is the one way we can improve our health without dieting, rigorous exercise, or taking a supplement. Practicing thankfulness every day can reward you with better health and a richer quality of life all year long.

Thank you for taking your time to read this column. I appreciate you, and wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and a life filled with gratitude.

Dr. Alyssa Musgrove

Pathways to Healing specializes in holistic chiropractic care. Dr. Alyssa Musgrove draws on a variety of techniques, including chiropractic, kinesiology, nutrition, food allergy testing and lifestyle counseling to assist clients in achieving optimal health and wellness in one setting. In addition, the practice is committed to being a valuable source of information so that people can learn how to live a healthy lifestyle and prevent future illness. Pathways to Healing is located at 1022 Founders Row, Lake Oconee Village, Greensboro. The office can be reached at 706-454-2040.