Do you think gratitude could change your life? Not just the good “feelings” of gratitude, but the actual, slow-down-and-write-it-down act of gratitude. Do you think writing 10 gratitudes, big or small but meaningful to you, each day from tomorrow until Thanksgiving would be worth it? Here’s our gratitude challenge, how it may change your life, and how it will change your health.
If you’ve ever read Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 gifts, you know what daily gratitudes can mean to someone. How they can take a heart that’s downtrodden, and show it the small and big miracles, even in an ordinary life.
You may know that giving thanks to God was a practice Jesus taught, throughout the day, before meals, and even before He was betrayed and crucified.
The miracle isn’t in how God feels when we thank Him, it’s in how He changes our hearts and minds through gratitude.
The challenge is simple.
Get any paper and a pen. It can be a notebook, a journal, or a loose paper found on your countertop (you may want to staple loose papers together in the end).
Starting November 1st, simply keep the paper nearby and write down things you’re grateful for throughout your day. There’s no need to be super-legalistic about it, but if you can aim for ten per day to start, you’ll end up with more than 250 written gratitudes by Thanksgiving!
What counts? Everything any anything for which your heart is grateful. The blue of the sky on a clear day. The sparkle of an icicle. The kiss of a child. The smile of a spouse. The dinner on the table.
In fact, the more ordinary, the better. If we can be grateful in ordinary life, we can learn to appreciate what God has given us, and this will in turn overflow as love and trust in Him.
And what’s more, it won’t just change your heart. God has given us this simple practice that can also improve our health.
Practicing gratitude reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, by up to 23% (1). What’s more, health care practitioners have sustained lower perceived stress (decrease of 28%) and depression by keeping a gratitude journal (2).
This is important. High, chronic cortisol levels are associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart health, and metabolic syndrome (3). Most modern stress is mental rather than physical. It’s caused by relationships, traffic, computer malfunction, and busy schedules. It’s not typically a physical threat. When internalized, it wages war on our body systems.
Be thankful with a grateful heart. Amazingly, a grateful heart is a healthier heart.
In studies, gratitude is associated with better cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure and decreased heart rate variability. This all works together to improve cardiovascular health and overall health (4, 5).
Studies show that those who practice gratitude also tend to make healthier choices. Specifically, there’s an association between those who are reportedly grateful and less use of tobacco, more exercise, and better food choices (5, 6).
As a therapy, gratitude intervention shows promise when helping patients increase healthy habits. In one study, 31% of participants quit smoking and maintained abstinence after 6 months, compared to meta-analysis averages of 23% with a nicotine patch alone (7).
Gratitude and optimism can actually improve your body’s response to disease. How?
Studies have found that our bodies produce more disease-fighting cells when we are grateful and optimistic (11).
What’s more, as we age our immune function declines, in part due to an imbalance in cortisol vs. dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). If we reduce chronic cortisol, we can maintain a healthier balance with DHEA levels and immune function (8).
A crucial factor in healthy aging is brain health. One crucial habit for brain health is sleep. As you practice gratitude, you improve sleep.
In fact, a study of 400 individuals, many of whom had sleep disorders, found that writing gratitudes before sleep improves both the quality and duration of sleep (9).
In another study, gratitude has was linked to a 10 percent improvement in sleep and a 19 percent decrease in depression levels in patients with chronic disease and insomnia (10).
Don’t wait. Get your paper and pen ready. Find a way to keep it with you and begin your gratitude journal on November 1st. There’s nothing magic about November; but the month dedicated to Thanksgiving is a wonderful reminder of the harvest God provides, the beauty in changing seasons, and His unchanging faithfulness.
And if you find this practice to be the amazing gift many do, you may want to just keep going. Two-hundred-fifty written gratitudes, then 500, then 1000, then a lifetime. Take the gratitude challenge and see if God uses it to change your life and health.