Thursday, March 1, 2012

Something to Try: A Gratitude Journal

When my eyes are cooperating, I am an avid reader of The New York Times Health and Science section always searching for information that might be relevant to autoimmune disease.  I came across an interesting article, A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day, back in November about the positive effects of people trying a gratitude journal. What may you ask is a gratitude journal and why have I decided to write about it?  It’s actually a very simple idea – a journal where people briefly write five things that they are grateful for weekly.  All that is required is one sentence for each item of gratitude.  Research by psychologist Robert A. Emmons at the University of California Davis, who coined the term gratitude journal and has conducted experiments on their impact, has found that people who kept these journals for two months had a more positive outlook on their life, spent more time working out and reported less physical symptoms.  

What also caught my attention is that when this study was conducted with individuals with neuromuscular diseases, those assigned to keep a gratitude journal daily compared to a group that did not keep a journal (control group), ended up with even higher levels of positive changes in a couple areas.  In addition to feeling better and more optimistic about their lives as a whole, they also felt more connected to others and slept longer and better than people who did not keep the journal.   On the flip side, they did not have the same improvements in other areas of health as people who were healthy who kept the journal such as having less physical symptoms.  This finding isn't a surprise because the participants are ill and being thankful is not going to make their symptoms disappear.

It seems like a gratitude journal might be something worth a try for other people who suffer from chronic illnesses like autoimmune diseases.  I know  for me when I am having a flare, relegated to the couch or bed, and am in significant pain, it is naturally hard to feel upbeat and positive.  We all have things for which to be thankful and maybe a gratitude journal could help provide an extra boost and some positive energy during these tough times.   It is not a very time consuming exercise either – writing five sentences a day or even once a week is definitely a doable task.  I will report back and let you know how it goes and I hope some of you  might join me! It is only taken me since the end of November, but this blog is my impetus to get started.

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