The Physiological affects of gratitude on the body
By: Lori Hudson Bertrand DC, RN
“When we are grateful, we affirm that a source of goodness exists in our lives.” Dr. Emmons*
It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is already here, but it is! This month brings with it more time with family, friends, and loved ones. November is set apart to express those things we are thankful for and to spark feelings of gratitude. Expressing gratitude is good practice. It not only generates kindness and love for those around us, but also ignites a calmness and peace that is penetrated from deep within. Dr. Stewart, Medical Director of the institute for Health & Health explains, being mindful of what we are thankful for can create positive emotions, and when this becomes a daily occurrence, more positive feelings emerge. Aside from uplifting those on the receiving end with a “thank you” or, “I appreciate you,” the one who expresses gratitude can benefit greatly as well. Dr. Emmons*, professor at the University of California and scientific expert on gratitude and positive psychology movement studied thousands of people from young to old and repeatedly found that those who practiced gratitude, consistently benefited physically and emotionally. Here are some ways the body and mind are affected when gratitude is practiced regularly:
Lower stress levels
When the body is stressed, there is an increased risk for getting sick. Chronic stress has been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer. According to Dr. Emmons, over 90% of doctor’s visits can be tied to stress. Gratitude can have tremendous positive effects on helping people manage stress on a daily basis.
Healthier immune system
The immune system has a better chance of fighting against illness and protecting the body from pathogens when stress is reduced. Research suggests that being grateful creates more optimism, which is a characteristic that can help improve the immune system.
Gratitude affects the body both mentally and physically. When we practice being appreciative the calming part of the nervous system (parasympathetic) is triggered. Research shows that daily gratitude generates protective effects on the cardiovascular system, reduces depression, increases alertness, ignites a passion to help others, reduces blood pressure, stimulates enthusiasm and determination from within, and creates more energy.
Creating a mindset of gratitude
Being thankful and being appreciative for the good things in life can awaken the body and mind, making us feel alive. Where we are in life and the journeys we have been through (or still going through) make us who we are. Adversity promotes growth, so even in the midst of struggle or loss, practicing a positive and grateful attitude can change your focus. When focusing on what we do have instead of what we don’t, goodness – no matter how big or small – is brought to attention. Don’t just focus on materialistic things; invest time and express love to those around you. Dive into a mindset of talking to yourself in an optimistic way. Consistently practicing this mindset can create positive emotions. Creating a mindset of gratitude creates feelings of forgiveness and compassion towards others. It strengthens relationships, reduces feelings of isolation, and stimulates feelings of joy and hopefulness.
While it is easy to concentrate on these things during the month of November, positive feelings and being in a thankful mindset can ware off quickly. Being grateful calls us to be present in the moment, to participate in life, and celebrate the things we have. I think all to often we get caught in a worldly view of “deserving” something or someone, that we lose sight of the goodness around us. Gratitude isn’t something that happens over night, but rather when practiced, little by little the door is open to appreciate the gifts that have been given to you. According to Dr. Emmons research, the following practices can help you keep a grateful mindset:
- Journal of gratitude–writing each day can illuminate sources of goodness
- Keep three things in mind daily: The gifts you receive in life, on giving to others and acknowledging how our actions or words can hurt others–this allows us to understand ourselves better and realize the grace we live by
- Remember the bad – We all like to remember the good things, but we also need to remember the difficult times in order to put our current circumstances in perspective and be thankful for where we have come.
- Prayers of gratitude–pray words of thanks
- Surround yourself with visual reminders (notecards, plaques, magnets etc.) that encourage thoughts of gratefulness
- Breathe–try to make a conscious effort at least three times a day to slow down and focus on your breathing. When you exhale, speak words of thankfulness, reminding yourself of those things you’re grateful for
- Commit to be grateful- committing to be grateful to yourself or in front of others can create accountability to keep a grateful mindset
- Make a conscious effort to smile more–studies have shown that when facial expressions, correlated with happiness are mimicked, happiness is felt
- Pay attention to your language– language influences thought process. Focus on the good things that other people have done for you
The month of November can generate appreciation for others, leaving them with a since of positivity and hopefulness. A grateful mindset is something that may take practice, but when repeated on a continual basis, can change the way you act, how you feel, and the way you live. Encouraging others is a reciprocal act. I challenge you as the holiday season approaches to be thankful, not just this month, but in the months and years to come.
DEFINE’s senior instructor and anatomy specialist, Lori Hudson Bertrand D.C., R.N. is a doctor in chiropractic and registered nurse. Her love for helping people through education about anatomy and physiology drives her to continue to share her experiences and knowledge with others as they pursue their journey towards health and restoration!
* Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks: how the new science of gratitude can make you
happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
* Emmons, R.A. (Nov. 2010. The Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life. Why Gratitude is good. Retrieved from