If November is the month for giving thanks, May is the perfect month to begin cultivating a gratitude mindset, not through superficial reminders to count our blessings, but through actions that influence our state of mind at a deeper level with the power to actually improve your health, mental health and inner joy.
It turns out, gratitude is really good medicine!
Derived from the Latin word, gratia, gratitude is about appreciation for the little things in life, the small acts of kindness from others and gestures of giving without getting. The emotional response generated from a sustained practice of gratitude goes far beyond fleeting moments of feeling good, but it can actually rewire the brain and make you feel genuinely happier and more content, according to research.
And perhaps the best part to emerge from neuroscience research is that you don’t have to be born with a cheery disposition to benefit from practicing gratitude in your daily life.
An Indiana University Bloomington study found that subjects who were experiencing anxiety and depression had a significantly improved outlook 4 weeks after writing weekly gratitude letters to another person for just 3 weeks along with receiving counseling.* The benefits continued even after 12 weeks, showing that the feel-good benefit gradually built up and reached sustainable levels.
As for participants who only received counseling… they experienced no such mood boosts, indicating that the act of reflecting and expressing gratitude in an actionable way can produce noticeable results.
But if you’re not convinced that “thinking positive thoughts” can work for you, consider a few heavy consequences of how negativity and being quick to stress out can affect your wellbeing—and discover a few ways on how to make adopting a ‘gra-ttitude’ easier:
Stress and anxiety weigh heavy on your heart
Stress and anxiety are not only related to mental health. They manifest physically through inflammation in the body that can affect your cardiovascular system. Elevated stress levels cause a key ‘fight or flight’ hormone, cortisol, to spike. When a high level of cortisol becomes the norm, it can compromise the cardiovascular system.
How to keep your heart healthy: Keep a journal.
One study revealed that patients with high risk factors for heart disease who wrote in a gratitude journal most days of the week experienced a drop in inflammation and improvement in healthy heart function.
Gut punch to your immunity
With its complex army of ‘natural killer’ cells and white blood cells, your immune system has the important gatekeeping role of fighting off internal and external invaders that want make you sick. Prolonged stress is a hidden source of inflammation that can actually overwhelm your immune system and lead to major health conditions.
And, because an estimated 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut, long stretches of the blues can interfere with gut bacteria’s ability to produce feel-good hormones, such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
How to keep your immune system happy: Be social.
Having real interactions with friends and family have been shown to improve well-being and the immune system, by supporting communication between the gut and brain (gut-brain axis).
A glass half empty can lead to depression
Life is tough sometimes and some days can truly put our resilience, patience and character to the test. But pessimism in daily life has a way of dragging us down in small, sometimes imperceptible ways too. And the weight of negativity can lead to depression.*
How to lift your mood naturally: write gratitude letters.
As was done in the study described earlier, write a gratitude letter to a different person weekly for at least 3 weeks and let the warm, lasting thoughts consume you.
You may also benefit from good-mood nutrients and extracts, such as collagen, L-theanine and hemp. Brain tissue includes collagen, of which 1/3 is made of glycine, a key amino acid. This compound has been shown to support to have a calming effect. L-theanine and hemp also boost feelings of relaxation and help support serotonin.
Remember, changing your mindset doesn’t happen overnight. Start with one small commitment at a time, such as calling a friend or loved one every week, or journaling twice times a week. Before you know it, you’ll start to let go of negative thought patterns and adopt an attitude of gratitude instead.