It’s always easy to be thankful – when everything is going great. But what happens when life is less than perfect? It’s no secret that stress, anger, resentment and feelings of depression can all wreak havoc on your emotional and physical well-being. However, could times of trouble actually play a vital role in improving your health?
This theory is precisely what renowned psychology professor and leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., says. In his book, Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, he discusses the importance of adopting a grateful attitude in times of turmoil.
He writes, “in the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.” It is this ability to “cope with hard times” has an invaluable impact on our health.
In one of his studies, he and fellow researcher, Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, asked participants to write a few sentences each week in a journal. One group documented everything they were grateful for, one group documented everything they were bothered by and the final group wrote about any events that affected them with no emphasis on positive or negative circumstances.
After ten weeks, those who wrote about being grateful experienced more optimism and contentment with their lives, exercised more and had fewer doctor visits than the other groups.
In one of his related studies, Emmons found that individuals suffering from neuromuscular diseases who kept a “gratitude journal” experienced more satisfaction with their lives and experienced better sleep patterns than those who didn’t journal.
Emmons is not alone in his research. Recently, researchers at the University of Connecticut found that individuals who suffered a heart attack cut the risk of experiencing a second heart attack when they saw the event as a positive rather than a negative one.
Additionally, psychology professor Lisa Aspinwall, Ph.D. found that there is a close connection between an optimistic outlook and immune system function. When researchers compared the immune systems of first-year law students, those considered “optimistic” based on survey responses had more immune-boosting blood cells than their pessimistic classmates.
So what can you do to help see the glass as half-full? Here are a few tips from the experts:
Keep a gratitude journal and jot a few sentences each day about what you are grateful for.
Write a thank you note to a friend or colleague.
Keep a positive internal dialogue by eliminating negative words or phrases.
Encourage acquaintances to be grateful and associate with more optimistic rather than pessimistic people.
-The Alternative Daily