We’re told to maintain a healthy diet, exercise, stay connected to others and practice gratitude. And while we know how a healthy diet and exercise affects our overall well-being, and that it certainly feels good to connect with loved ones, how gratitude actually works may not be as obvious.
What does ‘practicing gratitude’ mean and how does it really work?
According to Lindsay Damoose, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Sharp HealthCare, practicing gratitude is a way to take stock of the things — both big and small — that you appreciate and add positivity to your life. From the joyful sounds of the birds outside your bedroom window to the tasty coffee your new machine makes or the positive health prognosis a loved one received, focusing on the good things that you have, rather than what you don’t, can improve your life in a variety of ways.
“It’s so easy to be bogged down by all the calamity and negativity of the world right now,” Damoose says. “Focusing on what we do appreciate allows us to shift our attention away from what we can’t control. It’s like a filter that emphasizes the positivity in life.”
In fact, numerous studies have found that practicing gratitude not only improves your mood, it actually has a positive effect on both your physical and mental health. Whether you keep a gratitude journal — where you jot down a few things you appreciate each day — or you make an effort to reach out to someone in your life to thank them for their love and support, or simply add thoughts of gratitude to your daily meditation, here’s what gratitude can do for you:
- Gratitude floods the brain with positive chemicals. The release of dopamine, a reward chemical, can improve your sleep, sexual pleasure, mood regulation and metabolism.
- Gratitude decreases symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones boosts your mood, calms anxieties and leads to greater overall optimism.
- Gratitude calms the heart. Reducing the physiological symptoms of anxiety and panic helps your body function better, improving cognition and emotional stability.
- Gratitude helps patients with heart conditions. Post-cardiac event patients who practice gratitude experience improved moods, sleep, energy levels and cardiac performance.
- Gratitude strengthens the body’s ability to heal. Your immune response increases, blood pressure and inflammation decrease, and you become less bothered by aches, pains and symptoms of illness.
- Gratitude increases your ability to connect and share compassion with others. When you feel good about yourself and focus more on the positive things in your life, rather than the negative, you can more openly share feelings of positivity and strength with others.
- Gratitude makes you an overall better person. People who practice gratitude tend to be less materialistic, arrogant, entitled and resentful, and more caring, charitable, empathetic, hopeful and positive.
As an additional benefit, Damoose says that the more we do something, such as practicing gratitude, the more we are conditioning our brain to expect and respond to those behaviors. Practicing daily gratitude teaches us to hone in on what’s helpful to us while tuning out what’s toxic.
“The more you do this, the better you’ll feel, and you’ll eventually start looking for the good in things without even having to try,” Damoose says. “This is a practice that teaches us resilience and will certainly help us to get through whatever crises — big or small — that may come our way.”
Learn about mental health services and read important COVID-19 information from Sharp. As part of our efforts to keep you safe, we are offering teletherapy and virtual care programs that provide continued access to care. Admissions continue to be in person, so that we can assess patients for their individual care needs.