Mind-Body Health

The Effects of Gratitude on Heart Health

The Effects of Gratitude on Heart Health
When you recognize that something or someone is valuable to you so much that you cannot put a monetary value on it, you are filled with a sense of gratitude. You feel grateful for being a part of that experience. It is an affirmation of all that is good in your life.

“Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art.” - Joanna Macy, Author, Buddhist Scholar

A Mantra for Gratitude

The practice of giving thanks is the practice of gratitude. The Sanskrit word for thanks is Dhanya Vad which loosely translated means “I am grateful.”

Incorporating Dhanya Vad as your daily mantra can go a long way in not only enhancing your spiritual well-being but also your physical and emotional health. Practicing gratitude is the most effective when it is intentional. It forces you to participate in your life actively and take charge. It enables you to stop your train of thought and retrain your brain to think about aspects of your life that fill you up with a sense of joy and happiness.

When you create space for gratitude, you create space for joy, appreciation, and happiness. It deepens your sense of appreciation for who you are, where you are, and who you are with. It trains your mind to be present. The practice of gratitude transforms the way you feel, the thoughts you think, and makes you more self-aware. Through gratitude, you can connect with the world, nature, and your true self.

Here are a few ways gratitude can improve overall well-being.

Gratitude in the Present

A grateful spirit finds joy and happiness. And in return, hope, joy, and happiness find a way to enter the hearts of grateful souls.

Ayurveda teaches us that the practice of expressing thanks is a way of calming down the mind and body in order to be present. If you are feeling grateful for the life you lead, it is almost impossible to be thinking of anything negative or even worrying about something in the past or being anxious about the future. The feeling of gratitude can only enter you only if you are ready to receive and be present in the moment.

Physiologically, the practice of gratitude involves concentrating on your breath. Thus, your breathing becomes intentional while simultaneously you are training your brain to think positive thoughts. These positive thoughts make you happy, thus releasing serotonin, the happiness hormone.

Gratitude and the Heart

Let’s look at the connection between gratitude and your heart.

A Gratitude Study by the Chopra Foundation determined the role of gratitude among asymptomatic heart failure patients. The study, conducted in collaboration with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the University of Sterling in Scotland, found that a simple gratitude exercise helps patients that are at risk for developing asymptomatic Stage B heart failure or stage C heart failure.

Higher levels of gratitude were found to be associated with better mood, better sleep, less fatigue, and less inflammation.

To understand if introducing a gratitude intervention would lead to positive results among patients, the patients were randomized and asked to keep a gratitude journal for eight weeks. In this exercise, patients were asked to write down three things for which they were most grateful, on a day-to-day basis. It was found that the group of patients who kept the gratitude journal had better heart health than the group that was treated to the standard protocol.

According to the authors of the study, those patients who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers in addition to an increase in heart rate variability while they journaled. Improved heart rate variability is a measure of reduced cardiac risk.

Gratitude and Stress

Stress is a major contributor to elevating the risk of a heart attack. Practicing gratitude makes you more resilient towards stress because somewhere in the back of your mind (or rather, your brain), you know that you want to overcome a particular challenge because you have a lot to live for.

You can tackle stress in a better way. Sometimes, you create stories in your head that might not be true. Practicing gratitude can help you see yourself in a kinder light and you can shed this light on others in your life too.

It is not just about the big life-changing events that become easier to manage when you practice gratitude, but also the daily ups and downs that can have a detrimental effect on your stress levels, consistently.

In 2008, a study conducted in England found that there is a direct correlation between gratitude and improved stress levels and lower depression levels.

Gratitude and Sleep

Sleep is essential. We’ve talked about how rest plays a crucial role in your well-being in a previous article.

Studies have shown that negative thoughts are the bane of a good night’s sleep. Now, let’s flip the equation and look at the effect of positive thoughts on sleep. There’s a direct relationship between gratitude and sleep quality, quantity, and duration. Because the practice of gratitude is designed to trick your brain into thinking positive thoughts, slowly but surely, you begin to rewire your brain and your thought patterns. You replace negative notions with positive placards and thus not only improve your emotional well-being but also get a good night’s sleep in return.

Gratitude and Relationships

Gratitude does not only help in improving your romantic relationships but can help you create strong and long-lasting friendships. As humans, we all thrive when we connect to other humans on a deeper level.

Expressing gratitude to your partner can enhance the strength of the relationship, it can build communal strength, and it can also lead to perceived strength i.e., expressing your gratitude towards your friend, spouse or parent is better than just thinking about it.

Thus, it is not only essential to practice gratitude but also to express the gratitude that you feel to your loved ones.

Studies show that gratitude and loneliness are inversely proportional. As gratitude increases, loneliness decreases, and vice versa. As loneliness dissipates, happiness, life satisfaction, and contentment take its place.

In the absence of gratitude, your brain believes that you are lonely and unloved. If you keep repeating these thoughts to yourself, they become a reality, and it is not long till you find yourself feeling abandoned. This is the culmination of catastrophic thinking. What is the cure? Practicing gratitude involves answering questions such as: What is the one good thing in my life today?

As we close out another year, take time to reflect and resolve to express and practice gratitude as a daily ritual.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.

Create space for joy and appreciation this season with Journey to Gratitude, a five-part series with Devi Brown, available now in the Chopra App.