By now you all know loads of ways you can improve your health. Quit smoking, be physically active, eat more of some foods, less of others, don’t drink too much alcohol and visit your doctor regularly. But there’s something missing from this list. And yet it’s something that everyone can do right away, without any expense or side effects, and it actually feels good.
What is this mysterious, abundantly available missing factor? GRATITUDE. Really.
Feeling gratitude can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, enhance your immune system, and lower inflammation! Lowering inflammation is huge! You can think of inflammation like what happens when you get a bad cut. It swells, there’s redness, heat and pain. This is your body’s response to heal you, and in the case of a cut, it’s a good thing.
But inflammation can happen anywhere in the body when your lifestyle is less than perfect. Think poor diet, lack of movement, alcohol, drugs, even air pollution. Chronic, or long term inflammation is very toxic to your health. High inflammation is linked with pretty much every chronic disease out there, like diabetes, heart disease and more.
So think about that for a second. By experiencing a positive emotion like gratitude, you can decrease a major instigator of disease in your body, in a way that’s measureable. How does that happen?
Well, every emotion you feel has a chemical component. You may have heard of these neurotransmitters, and your entire body is able to interpret them. Not just the brain, but every organ in your body has these receptors for emotion chemicals called neurotransmitters. Think of the neurotransmitter like a key, and the receptors like a lock. When the neurotransmitter gets to a receptor, it opens the door to affect that organ. How the organ is affected depends on the type of neurotransmitter landing there.
More and more, scientists are finding that the negative emotions that cause stress will negatively impact the organs, while the positive emotions impact these organs positively. So that’s how it physically works, in a nutshell.
Now, there is a little catch. You can’t simply list off things you are grateful for in your head and expect to get all these benefits. You have to really feel it. To activate the positive chemicals that boost your mood and improve your health, it has to be a bodily experience. In other words, you can’t fake it.
Think about something that really moves you emotionally. For me, I can get like this over sappy commercials, but it takes more for other people. Think about when you feel really emotional and you almost feel it like a wave going through your body. For me, I feel my chest expand, I breathe more deeply, and get a warm sensation, it’s like I’m smiling inside. So when I want to practice feeling gratitude, that’s the feeling I’m aiming for. You want to find out what that feeling is for you. That’s when you know those gratitude chemicals are rushing over your entire body in a healing way.
So why aren’t you hearing about gratitude from your doctor? Why don’t you see ads to “Lose the Attitude – Get Gratitude” on billboards and radio commercials? There are likely several reasons gratitude doesn’t get the attention the more well-known health behaviors do.
First, the research on gratitude and health is relatively young. Scientific research is not known for its speed. Let’s just say if science were an internet service provider, dial-up AOL would beat it every time. It can take decades of research before a message catches on and there is proof enough to promote it to death. Which is good when it comes to potentially harmful things like medications. But in my opinion, when it comes to something as natural and feel-good a positive emotion like gratitude – why wait to practice and reap the likely benefits? The only side-effect is feeling better about your life.
Another reason why you probably won’t hear all that much about gratitude even when the research catches up is simply this – you can’t sell gratitude. Because we are all blessed with the ability to feel grateful, it will be tough to make a profit on this particular health behavior. But, I could be wrong. Maybe we’ll start seeing gratitude courses and retreats for sale, maybe even a pill to increase those positive neurotransmitters. But meanwhile, know that gratitude is something you need never spend money on. The wonderful thing about it is reflecting on what you already have, not what you lack.
Finally, gratitude is not really something glamorous or sexy. You may have even rolled your eyes at the beginning of this article when you saw the mysterious health enhancer was gratitude. But if you’re reading this far, you might know deep down that you have a lot more power over your own health within you than the health industry cares to let you know.
So there you have it – the underrated emotion called gratitude that when you can truly feel it has amazing healing powers in your physical body.
Comment to say how you plan to feel gratitude today!