By Dr. Shannon Vander Doelen, ND
In the spirit of our annual #IHIgratitude week, I thought it would be interesting to explore the health benefits of expressing gratitude. I hope you agree with me that being grateful, and communicating your thanks to yourself and to others makes you feel good. Many of my patients and colleagues regularly keep a gratitude journal – some make a point to write each and every day of what they are grateful for. Personally, I keep a note in my phone and jot things down from time to time as they come to me, and I re-read the list when I feel I need a boost. But is this good feeling backed up by research? I took to the scientific literature to find out.
In 2002, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published one of the first studies of its kind, which revealed that people who subjectively rate themselves as being grateful (and who are observed by others as having a grateful disposition) have a more positive affect and better well-being. This study was responsible for the creation of a tool that has been used ever since in gratitude research, the Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ-6).
A 2009 Study from the Journal of Adolescence assessed 154 teenagers to see if experiencing and expressing gratitude had any benefits. The researchers found that gratitude was associated with positive affect, life satisfaction, social support, optimism, and less negative physical symptoms. Interestingly, they also found that boys may develop more social benefits from gratitude than girls.
A more recent study from 2014 in the Research on Aging journal found that older adults who are less grateful rate their health less favourably than those who are more grateful.
It’s clear that Gratitude is good for your health! The great news is that you can foster gratitude with simple exercises. Some ideas for you and your family are:
- Keep a gratitude journal – take note of things you are grateful for either on a daily basis or as you notice them
- Shift your thoughts – challenge yourself to notice when you have negative thoughts and shift your attitude towards what you could be grateful for in that moment. For example, if the subway is delayed or there is traffic on your way to work, instead of focusing on the negative, try to frame your thoughts as being grateful for public transit or your car that can help you safely get to work.
- Talk about it over dinner – when you sit down to a family meal, ask everyone at the table to share one thing they are grateful for from their day, no matter how big or small.
Shannon will work with you to help you live your healthiest and happiest life. Since this means something different to everyone, she is excited about exploring your individual needs and working with you to create a treatment plan that is unique and sustainable for you and your busy lifestyle. Shannon is passionate about health and happiness and believes that the two go hand-in-hand.
Clinically, Shannon practices functional medicine. She maintains a general family practice, with a special interest in managing fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression; digestive health; skin health; irregular or painful menstruation; and endocrine/hormonal disorders.
Mccullough ME, Emmons RA, Tsang JA (2002). The grateful disposition: a conceptual and empirical topography. J Pers Soc Psychol, 82(1):112-27.
Froh JJ, Yurkewicz C, Kashdan TB (2009). Gratitude and subjective well-being in early adolescence: examining gender differences. J Adolesc, 32(3):633-50.
Krause N, Hayward RD (2014). Hostility, religious involvement, gratitude and self-rated health in late life. Res Aging, 36(6):731-52.