By Paul J. Mills, Tiffany Barsotti, Meredith A. Pung, Kathleen L. Wilson, Laura Redwine, and Deepak Chopra
Gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing. While there are many definitions of gratitude, at its foundation, gratitude is a healing, life-affirming, and uplifting human experience that shifts us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Gratitude provides us with a more intimate connection to ourselves and the world around us. In the feeling of gratitude, the spiritual is experienced.
For those who are ill, feelings of gratitude and awe may facilitate perceptions and cognitions that go beyond the focus of their illness, and include positive aspects of one’s personal and interpersonal reality in the face of disease. Such beneficial associations with gratitude have accelerated scientific interest in and research on gratitude and wellbeing. The number of publications on gratitude appearing in the biomedical literature in 5-year increments,since 1960-1965 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/) shows almost no publications until 1996-2000 with about 20 studies. That number doubled from 2001-2005. From 2006-2010 publications jumped to 150, and from 2011 to the present over 275 studies on gratitude have been published.
For the last decade or so, the field of behavioral cardiology has shifted its focus from being primarily on psychological traits such as hostility, stress, and depression to more positive psychological attributes such as gratitude, compassion, and empathy. In individuals with heart failure, gratitude has been identified as an important resource for alleviating the struggles associated with symptoms. In a recent cross-sectional study on over 180 asymptomatic heart failure patients, we reported that more gratitude was associated with less depression, better sleep, and less peripheral inflammation. In this new study, to be presented at the University of California, San Diego Institute for Public Health’s Annual Public Health Research Day (to be held April 9, 2015), we report on the results of a randomized clinical trial where patients were randomized to either 8-weeks of gratitude journaling plus their usual care or 8-weeks usual care alone. Journaling was used as a way to cultivate gratitude. We found that patients who journaled about gratitude had increased heart rate variability (a measure of reduced cardiac risk) as well as reduced circulating levels of inflammatory biomarkers IL-6 and sTNFr1, which are associated with cardiovascular disease. Gratitude journaling is a low-cost and easily implementable intervention that may have significant beneficial effects to enhance health in cardiac patients.