Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lifetime Gratitude : Lifetime Health

"[Gratitude is] a disposition to notice kindness and benevolence and to give back the goodness received."
"It's a cumulative response. We cannot leave gratitude at the Thanksgiving table and expect to reap the rewards of grateful living."
"One of the reasons gratitude makes us happier is that it forces us to abandon the belief that the world is devoid of goodness, love and kindness and is nothing but randomness and cruelty."
"Repeated patterns of perceived benevolence may lead the depressed person to reorganize his or self-schema ['I guess I'm not such a loser after all.'] By feeling grateful, we are acknowledging that someone, somewhere, is being kind to us."
Dr. Robert Emmons, research pioneer in the field of gratitude research, University of California, Davis

"[Gratitude, viewed as a potential low-tech, non-drug intervention for heart failure is a new concept] But, if we can reduce inflammation, potentially we could improve their [heart patients'] health."
Dr. Laura Redwine, scientific health researcher, assistant professor, department of psychiatry, University of California, San Diego

Keys to a happier, healthier life

Research suggests that certain personal attributes—whether inborn or shaped by positive life circumstances—help some people avoid or healthfully manage diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and depression. These include:
  • Emotional vitality: a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement
  • Optimism: the perspective that good things will happen, and that one’s actions account for the good things that occur in life
  • Supportive networks of family and friends
  • Being good at “self-regulation,” i.e. bouncing back from stressful challenges and knowing that things will eventually look up again; choosing healthy behaviors such as physical activity and eating well; and avoiding risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, drinking alcohol to excess, and regular overeating.   Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health
For most people, it would be difficult not to feel a sense of gratitude toward anyone who has extended themselves on their behalf in an act of kindness. On the other hand, there are those whose response is rejection, who take affront at anyone offering them anything. It would be nice to feel that the former is in the majority within society, the latter in the minority.

We are, as a species, no matter where we live, what our culture is, disposed to recognize and appreciate the attention of compassion and empathy. Most people, we would hope, instinctively proffer it to others and recognize its profound humanity when others extend their concern and care  to us, in turn. And when we are the ones who express concern for others, even if merely to acknowledge our gratefulness to them, an emotion of goodness results.

The new science of research on the positive health effects of an appreciative outlook on life appears to validate how we feel in gratitude toward others. In a research experiment Laura Redwine and her colleague interviewed several hundred people suffering from symptoms of heart problems; shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations.

The test subjects were given a questionnaire to complete, related to their health condition. Once the questionnaire was completed the participants' blood tests revealed that those who were focused on the positive side scoring high on the gratitude scale also had lower levels of C-reactive protein and other markers of bloodstream inflammation; symptoms of health recovery.

These test subjects were asked to maintain a diary, to set down three to five episodes during the course of their day that they felt grateful for. With the elapse of eight weeks further tests revealed them to have higher heart rate variability, signalling the heart's capacity to respond to stress successfully as opposed to the "control" subjects who weren't asked to keep a journal.

Gratitude, explained Drs. Emmons and Redwine represents a "wider life orientation" of optimism and positive feelings, toward other people. Other research has as well demonstrated that an association exists between gratitude and lower blood pressure; the precise mechanisms of which are unclear, but Dr. Emmons believes relates to stress.

The body responds to fear, stress and anxiety just as the mind does. Cortisol rises when people are feeling stressed, affecting the autonomic nervous system. Gratitude has the capacity, according to Dr. Emmons' understanding to "short circuit" responses, triggering the parasympathetic ['calming branch'] of the autonomic nervous system, resulting in a 23 percent reduction in the hormone cortisol.

A sense of gratitude aids in reducing chronic pain, according to study results, partially for its effect in sleep patterns. Dr. Emmons' research has discovered that when people practise gratitude journaling they sleep 30 minutes longer every night on average, awakening refreshed, more so than people who don't write down examples of their daily feelings of appreciation.

"Insomniacs have twice the pain compared to people without sleep dysfunction", explained Dr. Emmons. Because gratitude is a complex emotion, "It isn't easily isolated in a brain scanner", says Dr. Emmons. It is hypothesized that gratitude affects multiple brain systems; the brain hormones dopamine and serotonin, related to happiness and other pleasurable feelings are at play in the neural process.

The brain's "pleasure circuitry", may be aroused at feelings of gratitude, as useful a hypothesis as any to account for studies showing gratitude reduces duration and future episodes of depression.

Rsearchers say gratitude is part of a ‘wider life orientation’ towards the positive, seeing goodness not just in wins or gifts, but in people, gods and the cosmos.
Gavin Young / Calgary Herald    Researchers say gratitude is part of a ‘wider life orientation’ towards the positive, seeing goodness not just in wins or gifts, but in people, gods and the cosmos.

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