By Dr. Nasha Winters, ND, FABNO
November ushers in the season of Thanksgiving and reminds us all to give thanks for our blessings. Even when we are in our darkest hour—struggling with our health, our finances, or our relationships—we can still find relief in gratitude. My 27-year journey with cancer has not always been a picture-perfect image of blessings. But when I can place my attention on the good things in my life, my spirits rise.
At this moment, I am grateful for the positive changes happening in the field of integrative oncology. I am grateful that our book (The Metabolic Approach to Cancer) has reached more than 25,000 individuals around the globe. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had this year to attend health conferences, speak at summits, and share a message of hope on over a hundred podcasts. I am grateful for my clients who have allowed me into their lives at the most intimate times of their lives.
While I know, intuitively, that gratitude is good for the soul, I took some time to look into how gratitude might benefit health. Read on the learn what I found out. I’ve also included five ways that you can purposely cultivate more gratitude in your life.
Gratitude and Health
Many studies have explored the social, emotional, and even physical effects of gratitude. A study of 67 women with breast cancer assessed what would happen with 6-weeks of keeping a gratitude journal. Compared with the women who did not journal, those who kept a gratitude journal pursued more meaningful goals in their lives, had less death-related fear of cancer recurrence, and experienced a better quality of life.
Gratitude has been shown to improve quality of life not only in women with cancer but also in other chronic conditions, such as psychological illnesses and fibromyalgia. Gratitude is related to better mood and sleep, less fatigue, and a lower risk of developing depression over time. One study found that an 8-week exercise of gratitude journaling reduced biomarkers of inflammation.
Gratitude Can Be Learned
You might be wondering if you can train yourself to feel more gratitude. The research says you can! Studies using functional MRI have found that gratitude activates specific patterns of neuronal connections in the brain. A recent study found that 3-weeks of gratitude journaling increased these very neuronal patterns. This means that anybody who wants to cultivate gratitude can reap its benefits.
One word of warning. The emotional response to gratitude is complex. You might expect that cultivating gratitude would lead to happier and more content feelings. That is true, but it’s not always so simple. Three studies recently looked at the immediate change of emotions after being prompted to recall or express gratitude. The studies found that gratitude elicited mixed emotions—of feeling both uplifted and indebted to others. Be aware that gratitude might trigger a multitude of emotions to bubble up.
5 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is the most common process that is used in research studies to encourage gratitude. This type of journaling can be short and sweet. Set aside a few minutes each morning or night to jot down one, two, or three things you feel grateful for.
2. Use Sticky Notes
Sometimes we need gentle reminders. Write down some of the things you are grateful for and leave them on sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, on your desk, on your bedside table, or in your car. You can also leave notes that remind you to give thanks. These notes can be as simple as stating, ”give thanks” or “what are you grateful for?”
3. Give a Compliment
Make it a point to give at least one compliment to another person each day. This will bring your awareness to the goodness in others and cultivate a deeper sense of appreciation for them.
4. Keep a Gratitude Jar
A gratitude jar is similar to a gratitude journal. Find a nice bucket or jar (a mason jar works well) and decorate it as you like. Cut up scraps of paper to fill the jar. Make a note each day of something you feel grateful for, and drop it in the jar.
5. Practice Gratitude Awareness
Notice the kindness in other people. A comprehensive analysis of 91 different studies concluded that gratitude in response to another person’s kindness (called benefit-triggered gratitude) had a stronger effect than focusing on what is valued or cherished in life (generalized gratitude). Set an intention each morning to notice the goodness around you.
I hope that you will enjoy this season of Thanksgiving and find ways to see the kindness, compassion, and generosity of those around you.