It is the time-honored Thanksgiving tradition to pause and share something that makes them feel grateful, but evidence shows that practicing gratitude throughout the year has a profound impact on health.
Studies have shown people who consistently practice gratitude had fewer visits to physicians, exercise more and are happier.
“Gratitude not only makes you feel good — it can have dramatic and lasting effects on your wellbeing. Research indicates that gratitude can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, reduce cardiac inflammation, increase happiness, improve relationships, and decrease depression,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis.
According to Emmons, people who keep a gratitude journal consume up to 25% less dietary fat. Cortisol and other stress hormones are 23% lower in grateful people, and having a daily gratitude practice could reduce the effects of aging to the brain.
“Gratitude works because, as a way of perceiving and interpreting life, it recruits other positive emotions that have direct physical benefits, most likely through the immune system or endocrine system,” Emmons said.
Research shows that focusing our attention on what we appreciate activates our parasympathetic nervous system triggering the release of oxytocin, the love hormone involved with bonding and trust, and in return decreases our cortisol levels. A study of more than 1,000 people, from ages 8 to 80, found that after only three weeks of consistent gratitude practice, participants reported a host of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercising more and take better care of their health
- Sleeping longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
Feeling less lonely and isolated.If you needed any more reasons to be thankful, there you have them. So why limit that warm glow of gratitude to once a year at Thanksgiving? To truly derive long-lasting benefits, you should make expressing gratitude a part of your daily or weekly routine. One simple, yet effective, way to do this is to carry the Thanksgiving pre-meal tradition throughout the entire year.
According to Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author of “Joy From Fear,” pausing to practice gratitude before eating allows the mind, body, and soul to acknowledge the importance of mealtime —and food itself. Those of us who say grace are already acquainted with this custom. However, adopting a grounding gratitude practice before a meal can also be a powerful secular tradition.“
Whether a person is religious, spiritual, agnostic, or atheistic, a pre-meal practice of gratitude provides the opportunity to appreciate the time, energy, and effort that was invested in bringing the food from farm to table,” Manly said. “In our busy world, we often take our food for granted. Prefacing your meals with a simple, grounding ritual of gratitude honors the precious gift — the true miracle — of even the simplest meal.”
Japanese culture has a one-word phrase, said before each meal, that expresses this gratitude beautifully; “Itadakimasu” which when translated, literally means “I humbly receive.” Saying this at mealtime is a way of saying thank you and giving respect and appreciation to everything involved in the preparation of the meal. This simple act not only expresses gratitude, but also creates the space for us to practice mindful eating.
In our fast-paced, modern world we all, too often, don’t take time to slow down and be present in the moment, allowing gratitude the space in our lives it deserves. Mealtimes are the perfect opportunity for us to get centered and be mindful. The effect? Better digestion, potentially healthier food choices, happier and more enjoyable mealtimes, lower stress and better sleep. Who doesn’t want that? Adopting a pre-meal gratitude practice is only one of many choices available to us, but one that affords us the added social benefit of sharing our affirmations with our loved ones to spread those loving “healings.”
At the end of the day, there is no wrong way to practice gratitude. The important thing is to just do it as often as possible to gain the most health benefit. It’s a bit like working out; the more you flex your gratitude muscle, the stronger it gets. The more you practice, the easier it is to feel grateful and reap all the health benefits that go along with it. What’s more, the act of being grateful is not a zero-sum game. It benefits both the giver and the receiver; costs us nothing yet gives us astounding benefits in return.
Make mealtime your chance to heal your body and feed your soul.