Modern medicine is one of the reasons the 21st Century is a great time to be alive, and our ability to prevent dangerous diseases has changed the quality of life for grateful generations. In 2015, 91.8 percent of American children 19–35 months old were vaccinated against chickenpox. If you’ve ever suffered the soul-crushing itching of chickenpox, you know those children are lucky.
But our sophisticated medicines and surgeries still can’t cure everything. Chronic pain, for example, which has both a physical and a mental component. Our medicines are great at treating physical symptoms, but they can’t do much about the mental side of things. That’s where gratitude comes in. Gratitude is a practice of the mind that benefits both the mind and body whether you suffer from chronic pain, are feeling the effects of advanced age, or just want to stand at the helm of your own health.
“Gratitude is a vastly underrated cure for so many ailments,” said Michael Anderson, administrator at The Rehabilitation Center of Des Moines, a skilled nursing facility. “It gives us an invisible power to combat the challenges we face each day, especially as we age.” Gratitude can benefit your overall health, soothe aches and pains, aid sleep, and diminish stress.
1. Overall Health
The more gratitude people feel, the more physically healthy they are. Sound too good to be true? Research has shown that gratitude can help you reach your fitness goals, reduce blood pressure, lower your cholesterol, and get sick less often.
“It’s not just the gratitude of our patients that makes a difference,” points out Anderson. “The gratitude of their families also has a significant healing effect on the health of our patients as they transition through life.”
One researcher found that gratitude may be linked to well being because positive emotions (including gratitude) “build enduring personal resources” that “function as reserves to be drawn on in times of need.” When you express gratitude, you’re giving yourself more motivation to exercise, more power to choose healthy foods, and more fortitude against viruses.
2. Aches and Pains
Ahh, aches and pains. Short of dosing up on good ol’ painkillers and distracting ourselves, there’s not much we can do about them. But gratitude is a resource that can help those who suffer from pain to transcend the aches and even experience less of them. One fibromyalgia-sufferer kept a gratitude journal for months, and this practice not only changed the way she experienced her condition but it also changed her. “I can look beyond the pain and fatigue and look forward to each day and the joy it will bring,” she said. Expressing gratitude can give you the mental strength you need to face your aches and pains with positivity and power.
Ear plugs in, sleep mask on, and you still can’t fall asleep? Or maybe you have no trouble falling asleep, but you still wake feeling groggy? Try writing in a gratitude journal before bed. Research has found that even a two-week gratitude practice can improve sleep quality. Bing Crosby crooned it best: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep / I count my blessings instead of sheep / And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”
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Some of today’s most worrisome health conditions—cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity—are linked to a stressful lifestyle. But don’t stress out about that! Studies have shown that “gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.”
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“Each of the patients we serve at our facility is going through the stress of a major life transition,” said Anderson. “I’ve noticed that the patients who express gratitude are a lot happier and calmer. They even make better progress in their therapy, because the stress of facing a challenge doesn’t faze them, it only invigorates them.”
Further, practicing gratitude helps us get the social support we need to make it through difficult and stressful times of life.
The simple acts of feeling and expressing gratitude have benefits that go far beyond what we might expect. Gratitude improves overall health, soothes aches and pains, aids sleep, and diminishes stress. So prescribe yourself some gratitude; it might be just the spoonful of sugar you need to help the medicine go down.