As a member of the Institute of Heart Math, I receive a newsletter each month. This month, I really enjoyed the messages about gratitude, and have chosen to include some of the findings in this blog. For your reference, the material presented by the IHM came from film maker Loui Schwarzberg and the movement ‘Gratitude Revealed’.

Gratitude is easy to grasp, but it’s a bit tricky to understand at an analytical level.

When I was writing my book Eat … Think … Heal, I spent a great deal of time refining what I had written in an effort to present information in a simple, yet meaningful manner so that all readers could absorb the story. At one level, everything that I write about in the book is complex, especially when you try to explain it or ‘prove’ it through our modern scientific lens. At another level, most of what I wrote about seems quite like common sense, and only really needs additional explanations if you are that way inclined.

Gratitude is one such concept.

There are many studies which conclude that feelings of gratitude have a beneficial impact on your health. That seems probable doesn’t it? Even just thinking about something for which you are grateful generally creates a calming feeling inside. At a physical level, studies link gratitude to a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, reduced risk of heart disease, and better kidney function. At an emotional level, grateful people are shown to experience more optimism, joy, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.

If a feeling of gratitude does not come naturally to you, it is a skill that you can practice.

In fact, practicing a new skill develops new levels of focus that also has beneficial health effects. A Harvard University study of more than 15,000 people found that people are significantly more happy when their minds have been focused on what they’re doing; they are much less happy when their minds have been wandering. So just practicing being grateful already has an extra knock-on effect of increased happiness in your life.

The Institute of Heart Math has conducted decades of research on the impact to your body on developing feelings of gratitude. The changes in your body include the coherent function of your heart with your other body oscillating systems, such as your respiratory rhythms and your blood pressure oscillations. This diagram from IHM is a powerful demonstration of the impact on our heart rhythms when we compare feelings of anxiety with feelings of appreciation (or gratitude).

Illust 7 Changes in heart rhythm coherence copy

The IHM also provide us with a very simple technique to allow us to focus on feelings of gratitude.

Take as little as 10 minutes and focus on your breath and your thoughts. It’s like a meditation where you’ve actually got something to concentrate on!

  1. Start by focusing on your breath. Visualise your breath going in and out of your body in the centre of your chest at the point of your sternum. You may like to imagine your heart chakra as the area through which your breath is moving.
  2. While maintaining this gentle rhythmical breath, think about people or experiences for which you are grateful in your life. Small, precious moments – maybe a moment when your child runs into your arms, or sit relaxing with your partner sharing a drink together in the early evening before dinner, or you’re sitting by a beautiful waterfall rejoicing in the fresh mist touching your face.

By keeping a gentle focus on these two steps, chances are that you will feel a greater sense of calm. Try to maintain this feeling for ten minutes each day.

How does gratitude really work?

You may be asking, ‘How is it that feelings such as gratitude actually impact our physical well-being?’

Dr Candice Pert’s discovery of neuropeptides in the 1970’s helps to explain this connection between our emotions and our health. Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are neuropeptides (chemicals) associated with happiness, security and a sense of worth. Our thoughts and emotions activate our body to produce these chemicals, and the very existence of these chemicals in our bodies makes it easier for us to maintain these thoughts and emotions.

Sometimes we need to take stock in order to begin this positive feedback loop, with each feeding off the other in a sense. You can start by simple practice, even just for a minute at at time. The feeling is fabulous. Just try it and see for yourself.

If you would like to know more about the impact of feelings of gratitude and the role of your heart in this health connection, you can read about it in my book Eat … Think … Heal. You can read ‘Molecules of Emotion’ by Dr Candice Pert. You can also go to the Institute of Heart Math as well as to Gratitude Revealed.

“Let gratitude flow through you, and everyone that you meet on this day will be blessed by you.” Brother David Steindl-Rast (quote from Gratitude Revealed).