Positive thinking and gratitude, how they impact your life
Positive Thinking and Gratitude are concepts that have been handed down to us from community elders, over centuries. They form the backbone of teachings in almost every religion of the world, or any form of spiritual practise. Unfortunately, they have been wrongly relegated to the confines of religion, philosophy and literature. Woke-liberal, pseudo-intellectual, western-educated and atheistic-agnostic groups of people have often dismissed them as abstract concepts that are rooted in emotion and not having any scientific basis.
However, in the last couple of decades, more and more research scientists and doctors are acknowledging the direct health benefits of these concepts or approach to life. Several researchers from leading institutes and universities across the world (especially in the US) have published papers in leading journals, outlining studies that show health benefits of positive and/or thinking gratitude. This includes Glenn Fox, Emmons, McCullough, Martin Seligman, Bartlett, DeSteno, etc. The list is very long, and for want of space, we cannot list all of them here.
While positive thinking encourages looking at the bright side of whatever happens to us, gratitude encourages a thankful feeling for the life we have. They are two different concepts altogether, but for the purpose of this article, they have been combined. For the simple reason that, the physical, mental, emotional and social health benefits of these two concepts are very similar.
We will also not dwell on how to practise gratitude or positive thinking, as that would be the subject of an entire article altogether. In this article, we will stay focused on how they impact our lives.
Physical Health Benefits
- Sleep: Gratitude helps improve the quality of sleep, and this was the subject of research by the University of Manchester. The study found that when practised before bedtime, gratitude drives negative thoughts away. This makes way for positive thoughts or reflections which pave the way for a long, peaceful and uninterrupted slumber.
- Blood-pressure: There are various risk-factors for hypertension, and some of them are lifestyle related. Hypertensive people are known to indulge in smoking or alcohol more than those who do not suffer from the condition. They are known to be less health-conscious too, which constantly increases the risk for, and sustains – hypertension. When such people were encouraged to practise gratitude, they became more health or fitness oriented over time and reduced substance abuse. These factors helped neutralize hypertension and stabilize BP.
- Healthy eating: Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson is a cognitive scientist who specializes in the psychology of eating. Her study showed that when people who indulge in binge-eating or have unhealthy eating habits started practising gratitude, their will-power improved and their craving for food reduced. They could regularize their eating thereafter.
- Exercise: Studies by Emmons and McCullough looked at various benefits of practicing gratitude. They found that those who practised gratitude (by keeping a journal) were found to exercise or participate in sports more. This in turn helped sustain a positive outlook on life, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of exercise and positivity.
- Immunity: Many of the direct health benefits of practising gratitude and positive thinking stem from the fact that they help boost or strengthen the immune system. In a study conducted by Sood and Emmons, people who regularly practise these concepts showed reduced risk of contracting diseases along with an improvement in their sleep quality.
- Pain Management: According to The Sports & Spinal Group and Bruce F. Singer, Founder-Director of the Chronic Pain and Recovery Centre, people who practise Gratitude and positive thinking had better pain tolerance or reduced sensitivity to pain. These practises shift the person’s focus away from pain, on to more positive things in life.
- Diabetes Management: The practise of gratitude and positive thinking have been shown to reduce the levels of Hemoglobin A1c by 9-13%. Hemoglobin A1c is an indicator of glucose control, and lower its level is, the better is the control over blood-sugar levels and hence the ease of managing diabetes.
- Lifespan: Better immunity, increased exercise, reduced risk of disease and healthy lifestyle have a cascade effect of improving overall well-being, and thereby improving lifespan. In 2009, Boyles conducted a study involving 2 groups of women, one with a optimistic outlook to life and the other with a pessimistic one. The optimists showed only 9% risk of developing heart ailments, and a 14% reduced risk of dying, compared to cynical, hostile and pessimistic women.
- Heart ailments: A UC Davis Health study conducted in 2015 showed that patients diagnosed with congestive heart failure, who actively practise gratitude and positive thinking, showed reduced biomarkers of inflammation by 7%.
Also Read: Recognizing symptoms and treating – Clinical Depression
Mental (Cognitive and Psychological) Health Benefits
- Improved self-confidence: In a study, athletes who received praise from coaches showed higher levels of self-esteem, over a course of six months.
- Improves patience: A Northeastern University College of Science study conducted in 2014 showed that participants who actively practised gratitude and positive thinking showed more patience, less recklessness, less impulsiveness and better financial-decision-making.
- Improves resiliency: A study by Vieselmeyer and others in 2017 showed that people who practised gratitude and positive thinking showed more resilience after a negative incident in life.
- Reduces negativity about others: Studies have shown that people who practised these concepts showed lesser envy or jealousy of their friends and family. They were more focused on the positives in their own life as against that of others.
- Materialism: A study by Polak and McCullough in 2006 showed that people who practised gratitude and positive thinking were less materialistic in their approach to life and were more focused on nurturing their career, relationships, goals and overall well-being.
- More forgiving: Studies by Rey & Extremera in 2014 have shown that people who practise gratitude and positive thinking showed more forgiveness, tolerance to error, were less prone to judging others, less vengeful and less spiteful.
- Relieves depression: Depression is a clinical ailment that requires medication to stay under control. Studies have shown that patients who practised gratitude and positive thinking showed less of stress-inducing hormones and more of feel-good hormones. This helps in the battle against depression. Another direct benefit is that, gratitude strengthens interpersonal relationships for the patients, and this improves his/her support system.
- Overcoming addiction: Rehabilitation for drug addicts can be a long and painful process, given that such individuals are more to be self-focused in their thoughts. Training them into the practise of gratitude helps them overcome withdrawal symptoms and ease the process of de-addiction.
- More vitality: A study by McCullough and others in 2002 showed that individuals who practised gratitude had more energy and vitality in their day-to-day lives. They were also more intimate with their partners and had a better sex-life.
Emotional Health Benefits
- Improves mood: Regular practise of positive thinking and gratitude enhances positive emotions and optimistic outlook to life, both of which help elevate the mood.
- Overcome grief: Grieving over the bereavement of a dear one, or some major upheaval in life, can be painful. People who practise positive thinking are better able to handle grief than gloomy and pessimistic people.
- Retrospective positivity: American novelist Tom Robbins said – “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”. One may be positive in the present but unpleasant memories of the past can spoil one’s happiness. A study by Watkins and other in 2008 showed that people who practised positive thinking and gratitude were less sad about an unpleasant past and tried to see the positives in it, thereby achieving closure on many bitter memories.
- More happiness: Studies by Emmons, McCullough and Seligman in 2003 and 2005 showed that people who practised positive thinking were more able to appreciate the kindness and respect shown to them by others, and were happier individuals in the long run.
- Intimacy and romance: A study by Algoe and others in 2013 showed that people who expressed gratitude towards, and received gratitude from – their partner, had better relationships, more romance and intimacy in their lives.
- Deeper friendships: A study by Lambert & Fincham in 2011 showed that people who practised gratitude were able to appreciate friends better and maintain good communication with them, thereby paving the way for high-quality friendships.
- Excellent family support: A study by Stoeckel and others in 2014 showed that families where elders, middle-aged and youngsters all practised positive thinking and gratitude had stronger family bonds, and felt more protected against mental and emotional stress caused by the hassle of dealing with ill parents.
- Larger social circle: A study by Wood and others in 2010 showed that people who practise positivity all the time attract more people towards them, thereby helping them build a large network of friends, family, peers and acquaintances.
- Improves employee-retention: Companies that practised gratitude at a HR level were better able to retain employees according to studies by Glassdoor in 2019 and Lipman in 2017.
- Gratitude enhances productivity: As per the above survey by Glassdoor.
- Healthy environment: Companies that encouraged managers to practise positivity and gratitude showed a healthier, and less toxic work-environment.
Reviewed by Dr Suresh S Venkita, Group Medical Director, Kauvery Hospitals
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.
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- Mar 16, 2023