How Gratitude Affects the Mind and Body

This time of year is a favorite for many. It’s a time where everyone is reflecting on the events of the year and how grateful they are for their health, life, family, and friends. This year the holidays look different for me, just like they do for almost everyone. I find though, that when we have something to miss or when we feel cheated, it can be the very best time to reflect on what we have right now, and how often, the things we miss will come back even if they’re different by then. With this year being universally the toughest for many with COVID-19 and everything that came along with it, you might find it hard to be all that grateful. But did you know that gratitude goes deeper than just a feeling? It truly affects how the mind and body function!

While we often look at gratitude as simply a feeling we get when we think of our friends, family, and everything going right in our life, a study has found that it is much more than that. Gratitude is actually a complex emotion that involves social interactions, bonding, and even moral judgement and empathy. This means that gratitude isn’t just a “thank you”, it’s an important part of human interaction which enables us to build connections. This is likely because gratitude requires us to humble ourselves a bit and say thank you, which doesn’t come naturally for everyone. You open yourself up when showing gratitude, leaving room for others to see a side of you they may not see often, which in turn, leaves them with positive emotion. This forms connection. Connection with others, no matter how big or small, can help fill a void in your life. Let’s face it, we’re in a time where we’re extremely cut off from the outside world physically, and that leads to emotion disconnect as well. But that social connection, real connection with people, is important to keep you mentally grounded at a time you may feel isolated.

Did you know that feeling and expressing gratitude works from the inside out? Being grateful doesn’t just affect our mental health, it also affects our physical health. When you’re grateful, it can turn your negative thoughts into positive ones, which can improve your sleep, enhance your mood, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels, decrease inflammation in the body, and ease muscle tension. Being in a positive mood as a result of your gratitude often gives you incentive to make healthier choices, engage more with others, and practice habits that nourish your body inside and out.

While it may feel like this year has not given us much to be grateful for, there’s always something positive we can find, no matter the circumstances; something we can show gratitude for to keep ourselves mentally and physically in order. So, what’s something you’re grateful for today?