By Audrey Walzer
Scientific research shows that gratitude has profound effects on our physical and emotional health, our social life, and even the survival of our marriages!
Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday at Camarillo Yoga Center. It’s no coincidence that our annual Thanksgiving morning class is so popular. Spending time in gratitude for our physical bodies, the breath that gives us life, and the good fortune to practice yoga with people we feel connected to, sends us into a holiday that can be stressful for some, feeling invigorated, happy, and… healthy!
The good news: it’s more than a feeling! According to Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice of the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.” Professor Robert Emmons, PhD, a scientist at University of California Davis, has intensively researched the effects of gratitude over eight years, publishing landmark studies, and a bestselling book, “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”
Feel grateful, be healthier.
In one of Emmons’ control groups, participants were asked to describe five things they were grateful for in a gratitude journal once a week. These subjects exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, and felt more optimistic about the coming week and their lives as a whole than did those in control groups who recorded hassles or neutral life events over the same time frame.
Give thanks, get more done, feel more connected.
Those in the gratitude group were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two month period. In Emmons’ further studies, people who practiced gratitude daily, showed higher positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, attentiveness and energy, in addition to greater “pro-sociality”, or goodwill and generosity towards others than did those who focused on gratitude weekly.
Count blessings, not sheep.
A University of Manchester, England study showed that subjects (many of whom reported sleep disorders) who took a few minutes before bed to write down things they were grateful for fell asleep faster, and improved overall quality of sleep.
Gratitude can strengthen your relationship.
Dr. John Gottman, the University of Washington’s famous “marriage doctor,” states that unless a couple is able to maintain a high range of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end. Among the positives, he describes “expressions of appreciation and gratitude” as paramount, in addition to smiles, compliments and laughter.
Gratitude is not indebtedness, nor does it have to be spiritual.
In another study, (Emmons & Gray 2000) people who felt indebted to others report higher levels of anger and lower levels of appreciation, happiness and love compared to those who felt grateful. Gratitude is a chosen attitude, unrelated to guilt or obligation, which helps us to remember that we are all recipients of unearned benefits and good fortune, even in small things, and stop feeling entitled, or taking the good things in our lives for granted. If you are a religious person, praying is a wonderful way to give thanks. But gratitude does not have to be directed towards a deity, or anything specific. It might be as simple as feeling lucky that you found a parking spot easily, or smiling when the sun peeks out from behind a cloud.
The research is in: With an “attitude of gratitude” things don’t just look better, they actually get better!
There are so many positive things and moments we overlook in our lives. Once a day, count on your fingers ten things, people, situations, or moments you feel grateful for, or lucky to have, to know, or to be. When you open your mind to the small gifts all around you, you might be surprised at how difficult it is to run out of things to be grateful for!
Happy Thanks- giving!
Reprinted from my Camarillo Life Magazine Article, November 2013