The Science of Gratitude

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Gratitude is formally defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”[1] Gratitude is not just a random expression of thanks, but rather a mindful activity that has been proven to have measurable effects on your mental, emotional, and physical health. CMN stands for this multi-dimensional approach to cancer treatment, and believes that our treatments should increase your overall quality of life, not just simply attack the cancer cells. As such, we believe that practicing gratitude is a medicine, and one that you have complete control over. Practicing gratitude on a daily basis is important, and has the potential to change your life! 

What Studies Have Shown: The Power of Gratitude

Gratitude has been studied through a scientific lens many times, especially over the past decade, and the results have been largely replicated, showing that expressing gratitude has positive physical, mental, and emotional results. For example, a study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, has revealed many of the positive benefits of expressing gratitude, which are outlined as follows:[2]

Physical

  • Stronger immune system

  • Less bothered by aches and pains

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Exercise more and take better care of their health

  • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking 

Psychological

  • Higher levels of positive emotions

  • More alert, alive, and awake

  • More joy and pleasure

  • More optimism and happiness

Social

  • More helpful, generous, and compassionate

  • More forgiving

  • More outgoing

  • Feel less lonely and isolated

A separate, independent study carried out by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miamifurther supports this. In their experiment:[3]

“randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.

Thus, it can be concluded that gratitude helps people to feel happier, lighter, and more energy in their daily lives (which helps to explain the increase in exercise). Gratitude is also linked into higher quality of mental and emotional health.

Notably, expressing gratitude can greatly affect the quality of life for cancer warriors by helping them to overcome trauma. “A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.”[4] Such resilience helps cancer warriors to fight harder, stronger, and longer.

Tips for Expressing Gratitude

Published “research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the new Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.”[5] This task can have amazing, long-lasting and far-reaching results, and requires very little: you can complete this with a pen and notebook, on your phone or laptop, or even on a scrap piece of paper. The important aspect is that you take the time to mindfully reflect on what you are truly thankful for. Your list may start out simply, with gratitude for a roof over your head and the ability to write things down. Over time, you will reach further; your list may become more elaborate, or extend beyond a page. There are no rules, aside from listing things that you are truly and sincerely grateful for.

Another way in which you can implement gratitude expression into your daily life is through letters, or quick texts. Maybe you will make a promise to yourself that you will send out a quick text message (or email) when you first wake up to someone that you are grateful for; maybe you will elaborate further and choose to write a letter that reflects on your gratitude at the end of your day, before you go to bed. This is ultimately up to you: you know yourself better than anyone else, so you have the right to dictate how, when, where, and why you would like to express your gratitude. 

To Learn More 

Gratitude is an excellent act to implement into your everyday life. It may not rid your body of cancer, but it is a powerful medicine that can provide you with inner-peace and the ability to strengthen your bonds with members of your cancer community and the other people around you. Gratitude, like forgiveness, is unique in that you have absolute control over it: you choose what to be grateful for and when and how to express it; the key is that you do so with sincerity. Gratitude has tremendous psychological and psychosocial value, and will ultimately increase your appreciation for the life you live. To learn more about expressing gratitude, or the mental and emotional support activities that CMN provides, click here or email us at info@cmnact.com.


[1]“Gratitude.” Merriam-Webster.

[2]Emmons, Robert. “Why Gratitude is Good.” Greater Good, UC Berkeley.2010.

[3]Robbins, Ocean. “The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier.” The Huffington Post.2011.

[4]Morin, Amy. “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round.” Forbes.2014.

[5]Carpenter, Derrick MAPP. “The Science Behind Gratitude (and How It Can Change Your Life). Happify Daily.

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