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gratitude and heart health: young woman hugging her mother

Gratitude Is Actually Good For Your Heart, Says Science

Let’s be honest: Gratitude can feel cliche—and, when every wellness influencer on the internet seems to suggest that gratitude will solve all of your problems, even a little annoying. As trite as proclamations about the wonders of gratitude journaling may seem, though, there’s very good reason that this state of being gets so much hype. 

Research has already established that tapping into gratitude daily has major mental health payoffs. One 2020 paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies reported that practicing gratitude for 15 minutes a day, five days a week for at least six weeks enhanced mental wellness and possibly promoted a lasting change in perspective. 

Now, new research suggests that the perks of gratitude extend beyond just your mind. Here’s what it has to say—and what you can do with this info to live a happier, healthier life.

The Research

A recent longitudinal study (in which researchers tracked participants over time) has identified another perk to add to gratitude’s resume: better heart health. Specifically, the study noted that people who are more likely to feel gratitude and other positive emotions are significantly less likely to have a heart attack.

Read More: 5 Things Cardiologists Want You To Do For Better Heart Health

Other recent literature has claimed that gratitude can play a role in regulating an individual’s cardiovascular responses to stress and that this, in turn, can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. However, the longitudinal study published in Biological Psychology was the first to examine the direct link between gratitude and heart attacks.

Researchers checked in with participants twice over the course of about seven years for this study. After surveying the participants’ inclination towards gratitude and collecting information about their heart health, they concluded that “gratitude was significantly associated with reduced risk of acute myocardial infarction.” Basically, the more predisposed participants were to appreciate the good in the world, the less likely they were to have a heart attack.

What It Means For You

Clearly, there’s something to this whole gratitude thing. In fact, the researchers noted that “this study highlights the potential utility of positive psychological factors, such as gratitude, in promoting cardiovascular health.” Talk about a low-cost and accessible intervention! 

How To Foster Gratitude

The study noted that gratitude comes more naturally to some people than others. So, if you want to feel more grateful—whether for the benefit of your ticker or not—these expert-backed tips can help you tap into the warm-fuzzy feeling.

1. Start a daily practice

There’s a reason it’s called a “gratitude practice.” You really do have to practice. And the best way to do that, experts agree, is to create a daily ritual that’s all about identifying what you’re grateful for. 

For many people, journaling is a simple way to get started, according to Mark Verber, L.P.C., of EPIC Counseling Solutions. One way to do it: Commit to writing down three things you are thankful for every day. “These do not have to be grand or life-changing; sometimes, it is the small comforts or moments that matter most,” Verber says. “This exercise helps shift your focus from what is lacking to what is present in your life.”

Read More: 7 Tricks To Help A Healthy New Habit Stick

The key here is to stick with it every day, according to licensed therapist Julia Baum, M.S.E.D., L.M.H.C. “Like anything, with practice, you will get better at it,” she says. “Over time, you will appreciate small things you never noticed and see more significant things from a new perspective.”

2. Consider this when you feel stuck

If you’re seriously struggling to name a few things you’re grateful for or step into that headspace, Baum suggests simply connecting with your body and considering all of the things it is doing for you in that moment. Are you breathing? Is your heart beating? There’s something to be grateful for right there.

You could also note what you’re not going through, she says. For example, you may recognize that you’ve gotten over that nasty cold or that your mom’s blood sugar has improved. 

3. Become A silver lining Hunter

You might have to work this one, but another way to step into greater gratitude is to search (like really look) for the silver linings or lessons learned in difficult situations, suggests marriage and family therapist Kim Hoffman, L.M.F.T., of Tennessee Behavioral Health. “This shift in mindset does not negate the difficulty of the situation but helps you find something valuable within it,” she says. And when you can see the value in all circumstances, you can be grateful for them.

4. Speak your gratitude

Though you can certainly keep your gratitude practice a personal ritual, bringing others into the experience can make it all the richer. Try to make a point to say “thank you” more often, suggests Hoffman. Or, you could even set aside a few minutes each week to send thoughtful messages to people in your life or show your appreciation for those who have helped you. “This not only boosts your sense of gratitude but [can] also strengthen your relationships,” Hoffman says.

5. Be patient

As with any new practice, the most important thing you can do when starting a gratitude practice is to be patient with yourself. “Developing gratitude is a process and it takes time to cultivate,” shares Hoffman. “Do not be discouraged if you do not feel a change overnight. Consistency is crucial in this journey.” The long-haul effort is clearly worth it, though—and both your mind and your heart will thank you.

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