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Living with a chronic disease is difficult. Patients often feel a sense of despair when long-term treatment options offer minimal short-term relief. However, recent studies have revealed that something as simple as identifying what you are thankful for can have profound and immediate impacts on your mental and physical health. The quality of being thankful for the good things in life is also known as gratitude, and while such a simple act may seem trivial, many scientific studies have discovered the importance of giving thanks year-round. Leading the way in gratitude research is the Greater Good Science Center, also known as the GGSC, at University of California, Berkeley. The GGSC has published numerous studies, videos and stories revealing the true power of gratitude. Heading many of these studies is Robert Emmons, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology who has been studying the effects of positive psychology and gratitude for over 20 years. A study published by Dr. Emmons and University of Miami professor Michael McCullough in 2002 paved the way for recent gratitude research and discovered that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits. In a short video by the GGSC, Dr. Emmons highlights four reasons to practice gratitude:
  1. Gratitude allows celebration of the present.
  2. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions.
  3. Grateful people are more stress resilient.
  4. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth.
While these reasons may seem small, Dr. Emmons has found that they can have lasting impacts on a person’s emotional well-being – and when you’re physically ill, your mental health is paramount in fighting disease. In fact, people with the highest levels of stress compared to others were 32 percent more likely to die from cancer, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Dr. Emmons’ reasons to cultivate gratitude can help patients prioritize their mental health and, in turn, improve their physical health. But for some, cultivating gratitude is easier said than done. Luckily, scientists have found various methods proven to cultivate long lasting happiness. A 2005 study from the American Psychologist tested five different methods for cultivating gratitude. Two of those methods — writing about three good things that happen each day and using signature strengths of character in a new way — improved participants emotional well-being for up to six months. This means something as simple as writing down and acknowledging the good things in life can improve your emotional well-being for months. While finding time to cultivate gratitude may be difficult for some, a practice outlined by the GGSC only takes 10 minutes of your day and is scientifically proven to increase your mood. So, next time you find yourself feeling depressed, lonely or hopeless, try to practice gratitude, and you may just see your mood take a turn for the better. Having a hard time identifying the good things in life? Check out what our chronic disease ambassadors are thankful for on the Chronic Disease Coalition Facebook page.