Gratitude not only make us feel better, it also seems to spark physical changes in our bodies that are beneficial, concluded a recent study led by Paul Mills.
Mills is a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. He specializes in disease processes and he wondered if the specific feeling of gratitude made a difference.
He recruited 186 men and women, with the average age of 66. Each of these individuals had already had some damage to their heart from various causes such as years of high blood pressure, a heart attack or an infection. They each completed a standard questionnaire to rate how grateful they felt for the people, places or things in their lives.
Results showed that the more grateful people were, the healthier they were. They were less depressed, slept better and even had more energy.
Blood tests to measure inflammation, a measurable indication of better heart health, showed lower levels among those who were grateful.
In a follow-up study, Mills tested 40 people for heart disease and noted biological indications of heart disease such as inflammation and heart rhythm.
Then he asked half of those people to keep a journal most days and write about things they were grateful for.
Two months later, all 40 patients were retested. Those who had kept a journal also sustained measurable benefits.
Inflammation levels were reduced, heart rhythm improved and heart disease risk decreased.
How specifically does gratitude help the heart? How does it work?
Mills isn’t sure, but in an article by Patti Neighmond in Shots: Health News From NPR, he speculates it’s because gratitude reduces stress, a huge factor in heart disease.
“Taking the time to focus on what you are thankful for,” he says, “letting that sense of gratitude wash over you — this helps us manage and cope.”