You know the expression, “It’s better to give than to receive”? It turns out this might be referring to more than just those warm fuzzy feelings you get when you do something nice for someone else. According to recent research, being grateful and giving back may actually be good for your heart health.
Though it’s widely known that a positive attitude can help combat stress and depression, professor Paul Mills at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine wanted to determine if feelings of gratitude could also have a positive effect on heart health. He studied 186 men and women with various degrees of heart trouble—some had high blood pressure and some had even previously had heart attacks—and asked them to fill out a survey rating their level of gratitude.
The study found that participants who indicated high levels of gratitude were less likely to be depressed, tended to sleep better and regularly had more energy than their less grateful counterparts. What’s even more surprising is the physical reaction gratitude seemed to have on the body. Mills tested participants’ inflammation levels and found those who were more grateful had lower levels of inflammation, which is an indication of a healthier heart.
His curiosity piqued, Mills decided to do a follow-up study. He took 40 patients and tested their heart health for heart disease, inflammation and rhythm. For the next two months, half of the participants kept a daily gratitude journal to reflect on a few things in their life for which they were most grateful. At the end of the study, Mills retested both groups to find reduced inflammation levels and improved heart rhythm in the patients who kept journals.
While the reasons gratitude seems to improve heart health aren’t exactly clear, Mills believes a reduction in stress plays a significant role. Since the holidays can often be the source of additional stress, here are three ideas for giving back this season and showing your gratitude:
3 Ways to Give Back and Show Gratitude This Holiday Season
Find an organization that you believe in and consider donating your time. Many of us enjoy a few extra days off around the holidays, so use your time to make a difference in the life of someone who needs it.
If you don’t have time to spare, consider making a donation to a charity with a mission you support. Remember, even the smallest sums can add up to have a big impact.
Sometimes, reducing stress during the holiday season is as simple as remembering your blessings. Take some time to reflect on what you’re grateful for like the participants in Paul Mills’ study.
This season, don’t let the gift giving and holiday parties distract you from the importance of giving back and being grateful. Remember: doing so isn’t just good for the world—it’s also good for your heart.
Struggling to get in the holiday spirit? Check out our free Holiday-Inspired Cookbook for some ideas for your next celebration.