Gratitude Can Help Your Heart Stay Healthy

Ancient philosophers and our grandmothers knew it well: Being thankful is good for us, and for everyone else around us.  More than 2,000 years ago, Roman philosopher Cicero stated that a thankful heart was not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.

Being grateful feels good, and we seem to know almost intrinsically that it is also a healthy and proper attitude of the heart. Authentic gratitude includes a tacit acknowledgement that we are not self-sufficient. Gratitude starts with the recognition that we depend on someone or something beyond ourselves to meet our needs and desires. It would follow then that pride and arrogance would preempt the blessings of a thankful heart.

Having a disposition toward gratitude seems to be an essential prescription for spiritual and social health!

But the benefits of gratitude do not stop there. A growing body of evidence points to tangible physical benefits of a thankful heart. Counting our blessings and naming them one by one can help us maintain good cardiovascular health and also help reverse the effects of multiple diseases, according to a variety of medical and academic research studies.

One landmark study has demonstrated that conscious choice, when it comes to looking for the things that bless us, makes a significant difference on our health. In the study, those who practiced listing and counting their blessings were found to have less health concerns, to sleep better and to feel more positive about life in general.

People who are more grateful had less depressed moods, more energy, and stronger immune systems, according to data from Dr. Paul Mills, a researcher at the University Of California San Diego School of Medicine who specializes in disease processes and behavior.

Additional studies also show that research participants with heart disease, who kept a journal which reflected thankfulness and appreciation for life in general, demonstrated lower levels of inflammation and improved heart rhythm. Their health outcomes and prognostics were much better than those whose overall stance toward life was characterized by negativity.

“As simple as it sounds, gratitude is actually a demanding, complex emotion that requires self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one’s own limitations,” says Dr. Robert Emmons, an expert on gratitude and health from the University of California, Davis.

But even if focusing on the things that we could be thankful for takes hard work, the return on investment is really worth the effort. Being thankful could help save your life!

About the Author
Rev. Renato Santos is corporate director of Chaplaincy Services for Baptist Health South Florida.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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