love, are an amazing example of just how sturdy the bridge is between
the mind, body, and emotions. Research shows that heart-centered
feelings associated with gratitude, appreciation, and caring are health
enhancing. When you find one thing, however small, to be thankful for
and you hold that feeling for as little as 15–20 seconds, many subtle
and beneficial physiologic changes take place in your body:
* Stress hormone levels of cortisol and norepinephrine decrease,
creating a cascade of beneficial metabolic changes such as an enhanced
* Coronary arteries relax, thus increasing the blood supply to your heart.
* Heart rhythm becomes more harmonious, which positively affects your mood and all other bodily organs.
* Breathing becomes deeper, thus increasing the oxygen level of your tissues.
Other scientific evidence that gratitude improves health comes from
research accumulated by Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at
the University of California, Davis. Emmons found that gratitude makes
you healthier, smarter, and more energetic. He also showed that people
practicing gratitude daily, such as writing in a gratitude journal,
reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination,
attentiveness, and energy than those who didn’t.
If all of this happens when you focus for just 15–20 seconds on
something that brings you pleasure, joy, or a feeling of gratitude,
imagine what would happen to your health if you were able to cultivate
thoughts of appreciation on a consistent and regular basis.
Practice Makes Perfect
Cultivating gratitude, like maintaining strong muscles and bones, takes
discipline and will. That’s right. It takes practice to feel gratitude
and reap its physical and emotional benefits. There are valid
physiologic reasons why focusing on gratitude isn’t easy. Physically,
we humans evolved along with a nervous system wired to ensure our
survival by keeping us alerted to possible danger from the occasional
wild animal or violent storm—events that were relatively infrequent
within a life span. Now fast-forward that same nervous system to our
current era of mass media, when all of the possible dangerous events
from the entire planet are beamed into our living rooms day and night.
You can see why holding thoughts of appreciation is hard.
Get a piece of paper and list your blessings. Pay special attention to
the people who enhance your life on all levels, for example, the
checkout person at your favorite grocery store, the FedEx driver, or a
sunny, optimistic coworker. This exercise can literally change your
life. The more you notice the people and things you are grateful for,
the more of them you’ll attract. And thanking those who bestow these
blessings enriches your life in ways you never thought possible. And
also uplifts them.
In my book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom I wrote, “Thinking with your
heart takes practice, but if you faithfully learn to start thinking
with your heart and pay attention to areas of your life that bring you
joy and fulfillment, over time you will evoke biochemical changes in
your body that will recharge your batteries.” In addition to enhancing
your energy levels and reducing stress, recognizing and appreciating
life’s many blessings is one of the most powerful ways I know of to
enhance the immune system, balance your hormones, and promote heart
Christiane Northrup, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn, is a visionary
pioneer; beloved authority in women’s health and wellness. Dr. Northrup
now devotes her time to helping women truly flourish on all levels
through tapping into their inner wisdom. Website: www.DrNorthrup.com