Good for the Heart & Soul

One study discovered the more grateful you are, the lower your risk of heart attack. Is there a recipe for gratitude? Learn what highly grateful people do differently from the rest


"Gratitude opens the door to the power, the wisdom, and the creativity of the Universe" - Deepak Chopra

t is well known that mental and physical health are closely inter- twined, but evidence suggests your attitude may have a major influence

your heart attack risk. The latest science reveals that a "grateful heart" is a healthy heart.

Dr. Paul Mills of the University of

California San Diego School of Medicine has been researching the connection be- tween mental health and heart health for decades. A positive attitude is associated with lower heart disease risk because it reduces stress, anxiety and depression, all of which contribute to cardiovascular disease. But what about gratitude and your

heart? To answer this question, Mills de- signed a study. He recruited 186 men and women with heart disease and came up with a gratitude questionnaire. What he learned was, the more grate-

ful people are, the healthier they are. Mills also performed blood tests to measure inflammation levels. Inflammation strong- ly correlates with the buildup of arterial plaque and the development of heart disease. Interestingly, the most grateful individuals showed the lowest inflamma- tory markers. Mills then dug in deeper with a follow- up study involving gratitude journaling.


After two months, individuals with a his- tory heart disease who kept gratitude journals enjoyed a decrease in their over- all cardiac risk, whereas a non-journaling group did not. Mills isn't certain how gratitude helps the heart but believes the key may be reduced stress. These results aren't surprising in light

of previous studies linking negative emo- tional states with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. A 2012 review of 200 studies by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that optimism and hap- piness do indeed reduce cardiovascular risk.

Gratitude Offers Benefits for Both Mind and Body Robert A. Emmons heads up a long-

term research project designed to create and disseminate scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes and potential consequences for human health and well- being. Neuroscientist Emiliana Simon- Thomas, the science director of Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkeley, works alongside Emmons in the study of gratitude. Simon-Thomas reports:

"After eight weeks of practice, brain scans of individuals who practice grati- tude have stronger brain structure for

social cognition and empathy, as well as the part of the brain that processes re- ward."

Simon-Thomas has also seen gratitude

relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress and helps individuals with PTSD recover more quickly. Studies involving trauma survivors (Vietnam vets and 9/11) have found gratitude to be a significant factor in healing from trauma. In a blurb about the radio special The

Science of Gratitude, UC Berkeley's online magazine Greater Good says the prescrip- tion for happiness can be distilled into one simple recommendation: Say thank you. But happiness is only the tip of the iceberg! Research reveals gratitude comes with an impressive array of benefits, including the following:

• Improved personal and work relation- ships

• Better physical health

• Greater empathy, sensitivity, and con- nectedness with others • Higher self esteem • Increased happiness

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