The physiology of thanks

As bodyworkers, we know empirically that gratitude can change the dynamics of physiology. We have felt it in our hands. In this week of Thanksgiving in the US there have been myriad articles where research has shown the same phenomenon: gratitude changes everything.

In his Seattle Times article, Giving thanks helps your psychological outlook,” Seth Borenstein quotes University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough who explains, “giving thanks is a potent emotion that feeds on itself, almost the equivalent of being victorious. It could be called a vicious circle, but it’s anything but vicious.”

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading scientific expert on gratitude, professor of psychology at University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology gets specific on the psychosomatic and psychosocial benefits in his article, Why Gratitude is Good, and says,

“We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Physical
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

Social
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.

The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.

This has direct implications to our work as practitioners both in terms of how we care for ourselves and the verbal cues we give to others in our care. This week in my graduate school program three classmates and I attempted Facebook-based project wherein we tried to encourage and remind people to say thank you. We published this link (click here) and asked people to watch it and report back on how it affected change in their life. Although we didn’t get a huge “report back” response, we did have over 100 click-throughs to the link. I encourage you to participate in our project. Click through the link (here it is again) and tell me how it affected you. How many people can you thank today? And what changes do you notice in your body, mind & body/mind when you participate in this mindfulness-based physiologically beneficial practice?

Thank you 🙂

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3 responses to “The physiology of thanks

  1. Louie Schwarzberg says he started with only Time and a Sense of Wonder. Many of us started with those resources. Your blog post made me smile so much. And you gave me the gift of watching the Louie Schwarzberg TED talk again. Thank you!
    “The one day that is given to you, Today. It is given to you! A gift. The only way to respond is gratefulness.”
    You are a beam of light, Kate shining on all of us! Thank you for the reminder of the spiritual and physical benefits of gratitude.
    “Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you.”

  2. Thank you and Team Thank You for pointing me toward the Schwarzberg video and reminding me of the power of gratitude. I appreciated taking the time to feel the feeling of thanks, as the words can, at times, become so politely automatic that they lose some of their true power.

  3. Kate,
    Thank You.
    This was beautiful, very moving. It brought a smile to my face.
    Thank you.
    (And I’m feeling better already.)

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