The adage that it’s better to give than to receive rings true, but simply being thankful has tangible benefits to physical and mental health, according to a recent line of research. One of my favorites is a study from the Department of Cardiology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center of Columbia University in New York, in which the relationship between psychological functioning and physical health was explored. The researchers determined that those who are best able to channel positive factors such as optimism and gratitude experience less stress than people who are more prone to negative feelings and inflexible emotional responses. This stress coping behavior leads not only to a higher sense of well-being, but also to measurably lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another study, from Switzerland, examined whether “dispositional gratitude” predicts physical health, and if so, whether this relationship occurs because grateful individuals lead healthier lives. In a sample of nearly 1000 adults, gratitude correlated positively with physical health, and this link was mediated by psychological health and willingness to seek help for health concerns.
This inclination to seek help when needed relates to connectedness, which is in itself important for health and long life. In research for my book Age Gets Better with Wine, I found that one of the more significant factors contributing to longevity is involvement in community. We know from other research that our brains actually continually re-wire themselves, a phenomenon known as plasticity, in response to this kind of social and mental engagement. The communal affirmation of Thanksgiving further heightens the benefits of cultivating a sense of gratitude for these reasons. My list of those to whom I am grateful is long, and includes all of my loyal patients and my hardworking staff. Thank you!
Rozanski A, Kubzansky LD. Psychologic functioning and physical health: a paradigm of flexibility. Psychosom Med. 2005 May-Jun;67 Suppl 1:S47-53.
Hill PL1, Allemand M, Roberts BW. Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood. Pers Individ Dif. 2013 Jan;54(1):92-96.