Special Edition: What an Attitude of Gratitude Does for Your Health and Well-Being

Happy Thanksgiving from the Farr Law Firm!

The attorneys, paralegals, and staff at the Farr Law Firm want to wish you a day filled with health, happiness, family, and a plentiful feast. We also want to share some research provided by Harvard University and other notable sources about how being grateful can be good for your overall health, including brain health, physical health, emotional health, and spirituality.

The word “gratitude” is derived from the Latin word gratia, and it refers to thankful appreciation for what one receives, whether tangible or intangible. Gratitude enables people to acknowledge the goodness in their lives, while taking the time to recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. Being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves, whether it be other people, nature, or a higher power.

Research on Benefits of Gratitude

According to the Harvard Medical School Website, two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, conducted lots of research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 2 ½ months, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic, exercised more, and had fewer visits to doctor than the other groups.

Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the world’s leading experts and researchers in the field of cognitive and positive psychology, and a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Seligman, who I very gratefully had as one of my professors while I was an undergraduate psychology major at Penn, also tested the impact of positive psychology interventions on more than 400 people. When the group wrote and delivered letters of gratitude to someone who they feel they had never properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for an entire month!

USC neuroscientist Glenn Fox is another scientist who has researched how gratitude manifests in the brain. In terms of the health benefits brought by gratitude, he states that “it relies on the amount of attention and practice you put into feeling and expressing gratitude.” Below are some of the many health benefits from his and other research. You’d be amazed at just how many benefits you can attain in so many areas of your life by adopting an attitude of gratitude. For example:

Physical Health Benefits

Gratitude:

  • helps improve sleep. Cultivating gratitude throughout the day nurtures more positive thoughts that can help you drift into a more peaceful sleep;
  • plays a role in lowering high blood pressure. Individuals who have a grateful attitude tend to be more health-conscious, such as avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, which contributes to neutralizing the blood pressure of hypertensive patients;
  • helps prevent overeating, reinforcing an individual’s willpower to resist excessive eating. By harnessing the power of gratitude and taking the time to be grateful for the food on the table, the brain builds resistance against giving in to excessive eating tendencies;
  • motivates you to exercise more. Studies show that those who exhibit a more grateful attitude were also the ones who engaged more in healthy physical activities, such as exercising. On the flipside, exercise also helps improve your outlook on life as a whole;
  • helps strengthen the immune system. Practicing gratitude improves immune function, thus decreasing the risk of contracting diseases;
  • improves pain tolerance. Studies show that the daily practice of gratitude helps lessen an individual’s sensitivity to pain, as it helps shift the focus away from the physical pain and to the more positive things instead;
  • helps keep glucose levels under control. Practicing gratitude has led to lower levels of Hemoglobin A1c, which is a glucose control indicator that helps in the diagnosis of diabetes;
  • extends the lifespan, by improving an individual’s overall well-being. Gratitude enhances optimism, which combats the health hazards brought by fostering a pessimistic outlook in life;
  • helps patients with heart illness, by reducing the biomarkers of inflammation by 7% among individuals diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Mental, Psychological, and Spiritual Health Benefits

Gratitude:

  • boosts self-confidence. A study that focuses on athletes shows that the participants with high levels of gratitude received from their coaches also experienced an increase in self-esteem over the period of six months the research was conducted;
  • makes us more forgiving. According to a study by Lourdes Rey and Natalio Extremera from the University of Malaga in Spain, the element of gratitude has key contributions to interpersonal motivations to forgive along with optimism, emotional intelligence abilities, and the Big 5 personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism);
  • improves patience. Those who exhibit higher levels of gratitude over little things they have on a daily basis are more likely to be patient and sensible when it comes to making decisions;
  • enhances spiritualism. The majority of religions believe that gratitude is one of the most important virtues;
  • improves resiliency, by promoting positive outcomes after a traumatic experience, which then helps establish resilience toward the adverse effects left by a negative encounter;
  • makes us less materialistic, by shifting the focus toward intangible but more valuable things in life that contribute to overall well-being, such as accomplishing goals, fostering healthy relationships, nurturing career growth, and maintaining a positive outlook in life;
  • enhances vitality. Study shows that high-energy individuals share similar traits with people who exhibit high levels of gratitude, meaning that gratitude and vitality are strongly correlated (McCullough et al., 2002);
  • reduces envy and jealousy, by helping to shift the focus away from other people’s possessions to what you have that you can be thankful for;
  • makes us more optimistic, by establishing a stronger positive outlook in life;
  • helps the battle against depression, by bringing more positive intervention, reducing stress-inducing hormones while increasing “feel-good” ones, and strengthening personal relationships, which then reinforces the support system around someone suffering from depression and anxiety;
  • helps in recovery from addiction, by helping the former addict develop humility and a more positive outlook in life.

Emotional Benefits

Gratitude:

  • improves your mood, by enhancing positive emotions. By expressing gratitude on a regular basis, your focus will shift to the positive aspects of your day, which lifts your frame of mind and spirit;
  • helps manage grief. While grieving is a painful process we have to experience over something or someone we have lost, gratitude also helps us appreciate the things left to us or those that we still have;
  • makes us see our memories in a positive light, by transforming negative memories into positive ones and bringing closure to the unpleasant events that fuel negative recollections;
  • contributes to happiness, with grateful people having a stronger sense of appreciation for rewards, kindness received, and other positive aspects of life.

Social Benefits

Gratitude:

  • helps strengthen romantic relationships. When couples actively participate in expressing and receiving gratitude, the quality of their relationship is likely to improve;
  • helps improve relationships with friends. Showing your appreciation to your friends reinforces clearer and more comfortable communication which play significant roles in resolving possible issues and misunderstandings;
  • strengthens family support. A family that practices gratitude is more likely to have improved well-being;
  • fosters a healthy social circle. People who practice gratitude and express it on a regular basis are more likely to attract people with the same mindset.

Professional Skills/Workplace Benefits

Gratitude:

  • improves retention. A study conducted by the Glassdoor team shows that 53% of employees claim that they are willing to stay longer in a company if their boss appreciates them more;
  • enhances productivity. According to Glassdoor’s survey, 81% of employees feel more motivated to work harder when they feel that their work is appreciated by their boss and/or employers;
  • helps build better relationships among work colleagues. Good camaraderie between work colleagues not only builds better work relationships but also creates a healthy and more positive work environment;
  • enhances management capabilities. Practicing gratitude in the workplace can help shape you to become a more efficient manager or leader, and is also helpful in expanding your network and fostering employees’ trust and client loyalty;
  • improves decision-making skills. Making important life decisions, such as choosing a degree and choosing from options that affect your career, requires time and patience. Practicing gratitude is an effective way to increase one’s patience, which then helps in making logical and better choices in the different aspects of life;
  • cultivates a sense of fulfillment. The practice of gratitude in the workplace helps employees find meaning and purpose as a result of the genuine appreciation they receive from the work they do;
  • helps improve the working environment. Cultivating gratitude in the workplace plays an important role in establishing a healthy environment where employees feel happy, well cared for, and valued.

Adopting an Attitude of Gratitude

As you can see from this long list, adopting an “attitude of gratitude” can help reinforce positivity and enhance almost every aspect of life for you and your loved ones.  Start focusing on being grateful for the valuable things you have and engaging yourself in gratitude exercises. Consider keeping a journal, writing gratitude letters, or engaging in small acts of kindness, especially towards the people you are close with (family, relatives, close friends, work colleagues, etc.). Start by saying “thank you” to small but meaningful gestures you notice, such as loved ones checking how your day went, getting your meals ready, etc. Be grateful for the things you have and the people you care about!

Gratefulness for Peace of Mind

Peace of mind is a big part of lessening anxiety and being grateful for the life we have and the people we love. I am very grateful to all the elders in our lives that enhance our lives, and I am very grateful that our firm has the opportunity every day to give our wonderful clients the peace of mind that they deserve.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the Farr Law Firm!

Grateful in Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Grateful in Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Grateful in Rockville: 301-519-8041
Grateful in DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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