How Practicing Gratitude Will Give You a Peaceful Heart and Nurture Healthy Relationships
Today I woke up drawn to a Scripture in the Bible: Proverbs 14:30. It says, “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones. (NLT)
What does a peaceful heart mean to you?
I was born on Valentine’s Day, so I have been surrounded by hearts my whole life. I have always been drawn to hearts because of this. A peaceful heart, to me, means living a life full of gratitude.
What is gratitude? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
It’s pretty straight forward. The only place where confusion arises is when we develop contrasting understandings of what deserves or requires our gratitude. The ability to express gratitude freely is something a significantly high level of people struggle with. The unfortunate consequences of muddled belief systems and lack of personal expression skills has led to gratitude sinking further down on the list of relationship priorities.
And what with influencing factors -- including culture and upbringing (conditioned beliefs), life experiences, and core values -- it’s understandable that one person’s definition of what elicits an expression of gratitude in any context will differ greatly from another. It’s also easy to ignore missed opportunities of expressing thanks or performing acts of kindness, since today’s world has unfortunately become almost too busy to assign much importance to them.
Gratitude is so important
Gratitude is so important that scientists now consider it more than just an “action.” Gratitude is now considered an actual positive emotion, the effects and impacts of which -- on overall mental and physical health -- have been studied much more closely than just “gratitude” by itself.
The many different understandings, definitions, and expressions of gratitude make it difficult to measure on a scientific scale. Yet, neuroscientists have discovered ways to measure levels of the hormonal response and areas of the brain which are stimulated by and during an act of gratitude. This has allowed us a closer look at the psychological and emotional benefits of practicing gratitude - something which before may have seemed slightly intangible.
Oxytocin and gratitude
Oxytocin is nicknamed the “happiness hormone” because of its association to sensations of happiness or intense satisfaction. It’s produced by the hypothalamus, secreted by the pituitary gland, and also plays a crucial role in the childbirth process and helps with male reproduction. Completing an act of gratitude is just one of the more casual ways this is released. (NOTE: Another great thing to note about oxytocin is that it directly counteracts the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, directly affecting and reducing stress levels!)
The very nature of neuron-responses in the brain means that it is through repetition and familiarity that the patterns associated with gratitude and oxytocin release become strengthened, forging lasting pathways for its transmission. As such, this enables us to have a more reliable baseline supply of oxytocin (or any behaviorally-associated hormone), which, over time, causes the gradual increase in overall contentment and happiness.
Another “feel good” chemical which the brain releases during acts of gratitude is dopamine. Dopamine turns on our brain’s learning centers and allows us to feel more energized, motivated, and content with our present situation. This, in turn, leads to heightened levels of concentration which causes higher levels of productivity and thus increases overall work-related success and happiness.
Our energy levels are directly linked to the amount and quality of the sleep we get, and so the impact of gratitude on sleep quality should be analyzed more closely. A recent study found that in the moments before falling asleep, grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts, and more likely to think positive thoughts. The impact this has on overall quality and duration of sleep (and subsequent energy levels the following day) is significant, as negative thoughts are linked to disturbed sleep, dreams and even lowered physical functioning and cortisol production during “sleep time.”
Dopamine is also considered the most important chemical reaction in the body when it comes to initiating action. That means increases in dopamine levels occur when a surge of adrenaline makes you take action for the first time on a long-planned project. It’s what makes you more likely to get up and DO things. It’s the brain saying, “Oh, do that again.”
We can all appreciate a good night’s rest, but did you know that cultivating more gratitude throughout the rest of our day actually adds to our ability to maintain levels of deep sleep for longer? By accessing the positive side of life and our daily experiences before we settle down to sleep, we are automatically inviting a more settled and satisfactory ability to access and maintain deeper levels of sleep. One of the best pieces of advice I have received is to never go to sleep angry.
Energy is more than just being “active”
It’s also important to consider ‘energy’ in terms of more than just how active we are on a daily basis. Everything we are and do is energy - we simply manipulate this depending on what we want to achieve, where we are, and how we want to interact with people. Gratitude maximizes the value of our energy and it can often produce an uplifting effect. Considering how we spend and use our energy is important if we are to assess ways to put it to better use through expressing gratitude and thanks. In fact, it’s this boost of positive energy that might cause your small act of gratitude to multiply and transform into a more positive day.
Why gratitude is therapeutic
There are many benefits of utilizing gratitude as a means of therapeutic intervention for many common mental and emotional disorders. When consciously chosen above other less happiness-inducing habits, gratitude as a practice has extremely healing qualities that allows the practitioner to engage with the feelings of contentment, balance, and satisfaction in the moment.
When done steadily over a period of time, this gratitude has been scientifically observed to positively impact these conditions. (It also provides numerous other health benefits which boost recovery!)
Expressing gratitude for gifts, favors, or even just another person’s presence can help increase attachment and encourage closeness. People who do not express gratitude, conversely, are sometimes resented by others, causing a downward spiral of negative and harmful emotions.
It’s a telling interaction when someone thanks you for hard work, thoughtfulness, or effort. You feel good, because you feel your energy has been valued. THEY feel good because they have received help and/or guidance in a certain area. They have also honestly expressed gratitude for something which has assisted them or enabled a level of comfort or happiness to be reached which previously wasn’t there, and you have thankfully accepted it. It’s a double-sided coin. Everyone benefits!
This is part of why gratitude is so effective. Self-esteem, happiness, and confidence are boosted and, in the majority of cases, there is a more positive internal and emotional environment created for all involved.
In terms of those who suffer from low self-esteem, gratitude can directly combat this and cause higher levels of satisfaction and self-belief where before the individual may have been spiraling into a dangerous self-loathing circle frequently associated with various mental health issues.
Gratitude helps us adapt to life changes, be flexible and resilient
Have you ever felt overwhelmed at the prospect of plans changing last minute? Even if it’s just the slightest little adjustment to the schedule, it can sometimes be easy to lose our temper and let frustration win the emotional battles that are associated with new situations. Along with emotional resilience and awareness, gratitude also allows us to cultivate an ability to adapt to changing and challenging situations when they arise. By learning to cultivate an attitude of gratitude to life and the world in general, we can slowly start to become more aware of the pleasures and positive sides to almost all situations. It might sound like you’re coming across as overly passive, but it’s definitely favorable to getting stressed when plans change!
Gratitude isn’t just blind positivity
In narrowing down on what you’re grateful for in any given moment, you really get to extract the beauty in surroundings and circumstances - no matter how small or irrelevant it may seem.
As Ian Lawton states in his blog post linked below:
“Adaptability is key to change, and gratitude is key to adaptability because you see the gift in every time and place.’
As change is the one constant any of us have in life, I’m sure many of you will resonate with this! My husband loves a plan and I love not having a plan. We balance each other out and even though we are coming up on 19 years of marriage, I am still reminding him I have to have something in my day that is not planned because it is usually those non-planned events I am most grateful for.
How we can cultivate gratitude in ourselves and others
Gratitude CAN be cultivated and introduced into our lives, but wouldn’t it be easier if we had been taught it as children? Gratitude is associated with a higher level of happiness and peace in kids, while also contributing largely to overall positive youth development. Teaching children how to practice gratitude from a young age will help cultivate future generations of more self-aware adults with the ability to create and maintain stronger, more fulfilling relationships.
There are some really straightforward ways to do this. First, it’s important to remember that children learn by example. This means that if parents and caregivers are already demonstrating gratitude in their personal lives, there is a much more likely chance of children learning from what they observe rather than learning something because they are told to do it.
Generating an attitude of “giving” can be done by such simple acts as writing Thank You notes to relatives for gifts, as well as thanking your child regularly for completing chores or everyday tasks. This, in turn, makes it more likely that they will complete these tasks again without being asked and as such it cultivates an overall healthier home environment and parent/child relationship.
Another simple action is to openly thank friends and family in the presence of your child, and then afterwards explain to them why you did it. Again, this is more effective than merely telling the child to thank someone or “give them a hug and a kiss” - children want to know WHY these things are required of them, so make sure you do this before instructing it. The same goes for other gratitude practices - make sure you explain and give a reason why. It will make all the difference!
(That is why I include keeping a gratitude journal in my book, No More Meds. If you would like a free copy you can go to www.drcorinne.tv)
I believe the most effective way to begin practicing gratitude is simply to begin keeping a gratitude journal. It’s fairly straightforward: Get a journal, get a pen, open it up, and start writing! Writing 10 minutes a day can change the way you view a hectic schedule entirely.
Do this helpful exercise right now
As we near the end of our time together, I’d like you to think about your gratitude list right now. It doesn’t take long.
- Make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Close your eyes.
- Take a few deep breaths to relax.
- Now, take the next 10-15 minutes to think about 3 things you are grateful for in THIS MOMENT. Not earlier today. Not this weekend. Right now.
- Write them down.
- If you feel like sharing with me, please do so - but know this is not a requirement!
If you want more healthy tips you can subscribe to my YouTube channel here https://www.youtube.com/drcorinneweaver. Like and comment on my channel so I will know what tips and topics you want to know about. I am forming a community of people who want to take action in their own health with my social media channels and I want to know what health topics you want to hear.
I hope my column speaks to you and you can wake up each morning with a purpose. What I do every day is a calling, and I give God the glory for allowing his gifts to work through me. I do believe in miracles, because I get to see them every day! For more information you can go to www.nomoremedsmovement.com and sign up for my closed Facebook group #NoMoreMeds-Community for more healthy tips.
Dr. Corinne Weaver
Dr. Corinne Weaver is a compassionate upper cervical chiropractor, educator, motivational speaker, mother of three, and internationally bestselling author. In 2004, she founded the Upper Cervical Wellness Center in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Over the last 13 years, she has helped thousands of clients restore their brain to-body function. When she was 10 years old, she lost her own health as the result of a bike accident that led to having asthma and allergy issues that she thought she would always have to endure. Then, after her first upper cervical adjustment at age 21, her health began to improve thanks to upper cervical care and natural herbal remedies. This enabled her to create a drug-free wellness lifestyle for herself and her family, and she also enthusiastically discovered her calling to help children heal naturally.
Dr. Weaver was recently named one of Charlotte Magazine's "Top Doctors" in 2016 and is now a number-one internationally bestselling author to two books: Learning How to Breathe and No More Meds.
Upper Cervical Wellness Center is known for finding the root cause of health concerns through lifestyle changes, diagnostic testing, nutraceutical supplementation, and correction of subluxation (as opposed to just medicating the symptoms). The practice offers cutting-edge technological care at its state-of-the-art facility, including laser-aligned upper cervical X-rays, bioimpedance analysis (measures body composition), digital thermography (locates thermal abnormalities characterized by skin inflammation), and complete nutritional blood analysis, which is focused on disease prevention.