Originally published on positiveimpactmagazine.com on November 11, 2011
Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as a manifestation of virtue and as an important factor in our health and well-being. And today HeartMath® – known for its 20 years of research on the link between stress, emotions, heart function and health – is launching a month-long gratitude initiative online. Thousands of Facebook members will help create a wave of gratitude that will shed light on its importance as a daily practice.
Science is increasingly revealing the importance of gratitude in people’s lives. In a comparison experiment researchers (Emmons & McCullough) noted that those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, experienced fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives and were more optimistic compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
At the HeartMath Research Center in Boulder Creek, Calif. researchers have observed that the feeling of appreciation is the most concrete and the easiest positive emotion for individuals to self-generate and sustain for long periods.
“Gratitude is an expression of the heart and it is a powerful and positive emotional energy that can add hope and resilience in your life,”
said behavioral psychologist Deborah Rozman, who is President and CEO of Quantum Intech Inc. (dba HeartMath Inc.) and the author of Transforming Stress: The HeartMath Solution for Relieving Worry, Fatigue, and Tension.
Nearly everyone can find something – whether big or small – to genuinely appreciate and stress experts say that the act of simply recalling a time of feeling sincere appreciation and then intentionally focusing on that feeling for a few moments can reduce emotional stress.
Learning to self-generate positive emotions such as appreciation can also have a beneficial effect on attitudes and relationships.
In HeartMath study it was observed that just five minutes of genuinely feeling a positive emotion such as appreciation, care and or compassion can give a beneficial boost to the immune system. Their researchers have also found that positive emotions like appreciation can increase heart-rhythm coherence. Coherence is a balance or smoothness in one’s heart rhythms.
Gratitude can also have a protective effect against heart attacks according to researchers at the University of Connecticut. When observing people who had experienced one heart attack, the researchers found that those patients who acknowledged benefits from their heart attack, such as becoming more appreciative of life, experienced a lower risk of having another heart attack.
A long-term research project, which is currently underway at the Emmons Lab at UC Davis in California, is collecting scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes and benefits for human health and well-being.
The unpredictability of our modern times can create difficulty for some people to feel appreciation. Rozman offered this pointer, “At times life can feel more challenging and it’s understandable that some might find it difficult to summon a feeling of appreciation. I recommend that if someone finds it initially difficult to self-generate a feeling of appreciation in the present moment then they can recall a past memory that elicits a warm feeling. With practice, most people will find that they can self-generate feelings of appreciation in real-time.”
Positive emotion-refocusing techniques, like those researched and developed by HeartMath, can create a physiological shift in individuals such as changing one’s heart rhythms to a healthier pattern. The techniques can also help individuals effectively replace stressful thoughts and emotional patterns with positive perceptions and emotions like appreciation. HeartMath experts say this is a fundamental step in improving one’s overall health and sense of well-being.
“It’s not just a feeling that is assigned to a holiday such as Thanksgiving, said Rozman. To reap all of the benefits from gratitude, make it an integral part of who you are. Build an awareness of what and who you are thankful for and learn to share your appreciation often.”
As part of their month-long gratitude initiative HeartMath created a fun and loveable Thank You video that’s intended for individuals to send to someone they would like to appreciate. In addition HeartMath has also created a virtual “Wall of Gratitude” where many people are recording simple acknowledgements of the people and things they are grateful for. They also are also offering a free appreciation certificate that can be downloaded and given to deserving friends and family.
Take your gratitude practices further with these tips:
Gratitude in Focus
Photos are a great way to summon positive feelings. Find a few photos that evoke feelings of appreciation. It can be a photo of a great vacation moment, a picture of a loved one or a favorite pet. Place the photos in locations where you will see them during the day – in the car, on your desk, the bathroom mirror, or your refrigerator. When you see the photos pause for a moment and connect with the feeling of appreciation.
While you’re building the habit of appreciating more often, try using tools to remember your intention. Place a sticky note in key locations or set an alarm on your cell phone. Reminding yourself to pause for a moment or two can help reconnect you with your heart intention. During this short break find something that you appreciate that took place that day, it can even be appreciating yourself for your commitment. This practice starts to increase your awareness of what’s happening in your life that is good.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Set aside a few minutes at the end of each day to write down a few things you are grateful for. It can be as simple as appreciating the person who held the door for you. The practice helps you see life more through the perspective of gratitude. Once you write your list, allow a couple minutes to focus on the genuine feeling of appreciation for the things on your list. Be consistent with the practice to get the most out of it. You might also consider adding a gratitude app to your smartphone so you can carry your lists with you and add to it as you move through your day.
About HeartMath® LLC: HeartMath is an innovative performance company providing a range of unique scientifically validated services, products and technology to improve health and well-being, while dramatically reducing stress and boosting productivity. Their emWave® technology has won numerous awards including the 2009 Last Gadget Standing People’s Choice Award at the International Consumer Electronics Show. HeartMath was a finalist for the 2011 ABBY Award and the Award for Innovation and Distinction from the American Institute of Stress. HeartMath research studies have demonstrated the critical link between emotions, heart function and cognitive performance. HeartMath’s studies on the clinical outcomes of the HeartMath approach have been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals such as American Journal of Cardiology, Stress Medicine, Preventive Cardiology, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science. Learn more at www.heartmath.com.
I take time every day to give thanks and to write in my gratitude journal.