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When times get tough, taking a step back and reflecting on the positive is often a good way to gain some perspective on a situation. Gratitude can be an action, a trait, and an aspect of spirituality, and it involves focusing on and being thankful for the good. Practicing gratitude is associated with greater well-being, not only mentally, but physically as well. In fact, a recent study involving patients with asymptomatic heart failure found that gratitude was related to a variety of physical and psychological components of health.

The study, published by the American Psychological Association, involved 186 men and women with Stage B heart failure. Heart failure affects over six million Americans. Patients who are in Stage B have developed structural heart disease (such as damage to the heart), but do not have symptoms of heart failure. It is important to treat patients in Stage B in order to prevent them from developing symptomatic (Stage C) heart failure, where risk of death increases fivefold.

 Heart failure affects over six million Americans

Image Source: Colin Hawkins

To determine possible relationships between gratitude, spiritual well-being, and physical and mental health, researchers assessed patients’ gratitude, spiritual well-being, depression, sleep quality, fatigue, self-efficacy to maintain cardiac function, and inflammatory markers implicated in heart failure.

They found that gratitude was associated with higher sleep quality and self-efficacy as well as lower depression, fatigue, and inflammation. Spiritual well-being was associated with all of these except inflammation, and it was found that these associations were mediated by gratitude. This suggests that gratitude could potentially lead to a better prognosis in these patients.

It could be that gratitude may improve health because it requires positive thinking along with subjective and psychological well-being, including life purpose and satisfaction, and, therefore, less depression, improved cardiac health, and changes in immune functioning. It may also lead to a more positive perspective of daily life events, which may reduce the inflammatory markers measured.

These findings support previous research that links gratitude interventions–whether in the form of journaling, thinking, or talking–to greater well-being. As the therapeutic potential of spiritual well-being is becoming more recognized, positive psychology is becoming more prominent in cardiology. Practicing gratitude is a simple and low cost way to improve health outcomes in cardiac patients.

Feature Image Source: Hug by Allan Bergman

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